The New York Asian Film Festival returns, setting phasers to slay



On June 29th, The New York Asian Film Festival will return, reliably, to the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center to thrill, dazzle, and vex adventurous movie-goers.  Its unique cinematic offerings, are culled mostly from the realm this and the previous year’s theater releases of Asian countries being represented, along with a handful of premieres.  One can look forward to 2 – 3 screenings each evening (more on the weekends) until things slide downtown to the SVA theater from the 13th – 15thfor a stacked conclusion.

Some things will be familiar to long-time attendees. An award for astounding action cinematography in the name of founding festival organizer Daniel Craft will once again be given, this time to Hong Kong cinema stalwart Dante Lam.  As well as a lifetime achievement award to a veteran figure of Asian cinema, here being Japan’s Harada Masato, and a Rising Star award recognizing vibrant new talent.

Some recently launched innovations, such as a gallery exhibition, this year’s theme being “Safe Imagination is Boring”  and a jury competition for best film, reserved for new directorial voices and now called the Tiger Uncaged Award, continue to take root. Ever changing, the festival will unveil some new features, such an HBO sponsored Free Talks series. Taking place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center’s Amphitheater, across the street from the Walter Reade, offering a chance for audiences to engage in lengthier dialogues with directors and performers in the movies being shown.

As for the films themselves, they again represent a significant range of countries both with film industries recognized globally, such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, and those with less (or somewhat less) worldwide exposure: Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand. The Philippines has taken on a steadily stronger presence, and this year really has a foothold in the proceedings with the number and quality of films being shown, as well as guests on hand. Deeming this year it’s “Savage Seventeenth” and touting an unofficial slogan of “not (being) your average fucking festival, ” the mostly young crew is staying steadfast in bringing a challenging selection of films, downright confrontational at times, and often with something significant to say.

There is no way I could dream of taking it all in. So here I present a sampling of films I’ve been able to preview that made an impression.  Numerous other films round out the fest, so be sure to visit the NYAFF homepage as you make your plan of attack.

DYNAMITE GRAFFITI (Japan, 2018) directed by Tominaga Masanori

BLOOD OF WOLVES (Japan, 2018) directed by Kazuya Shiraishi

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (Japan, 2017) directed by Shinichiro Ueda

THE SCYTHIAN LAMB (Japan, 2017) directed by Daihachi Yoshida

THE THIRD MURDER (Japan, 2017) directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

RIVER’S EDGE (Japan,  2018) directed by Isao Yukisada 

MICROHABITAT (South Korea, 2017) directed by Jeon Go-woon

MIDNIGHT BUS (Japan, 2017) directed by Masao Takeshita

WRATH OF SILENCE (China, 2017) directed by  Xin Yukun

LOOMING STORM (China, 2017) directed by Dong Yue

© Enbu Seminar

Hereditary: playing with dynamics, pushing limits


19thmoviepass = Hereditary. A film that left me scared, disturbed, and deeply affected, has suddenly leapt into my top 3 of 2018. Proving that effective horror filmmaking is as much about the way of telling the story as the story itself (if not more so, it rides a line between real terror (the aftermath of loss, obsessive behavior) and the fantastical kind, it drags us through a dreary haze, frightening in how familiar it feels. It confuses, disorients, and finally turns into an all out assault. It might even go a tad too far, leaving less to mull on than if it were to pull out before  its mind shattering conclusion. But rollercoasters are not praised for giving us something to contemplate.  There is so much morbid acid-laced imagery that sears itself upon the brain, but the masterful performances of Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne as parents pushed to the brink of sanity that make the most significant impression. A shock to the system cutting through the notion of movie going as a slight diversion.



Artemis Hotel review: brief, yet overstays its welcome

18th moviepass = Artemis Hotel. Somewhere in this mess is a kernel of a good idea. In a tumultuous future LA, teeming with riots, an unlicensed hospital catering to the criminal element operates in the shadows, run by a tireless yet worldweary soul (Jodie Foster).

I felt a lack of ability on the part of those involved in directing to convey chaos. In its opening, there is rioting in the street, a bank heist is underway, but I wasn’t instilled with any heightened sense of panic. So when we move to the Artemis, I didn’t feel a sense of oasis from the storm; it’s just kinda dull. As we tour the impressively conceived of retro space, it feels like showing off, not development. Foster is fine, but does not command attention for a while long while. Things eventually do start to build to a frenzy, laden with cliches, such as an exciting enough narrow hallway shown down between lone protagonist and a horde of underlings (thanks, Oldboy) but by this point, I was already… checked out (pardon the pun).

Violence is needlessly gruesome at times, and the very underwhelming use of an intriguing cast leads me to the conclusion that this should’ve received a lot of revision before hitting the big screen.

Points for managing to fit Jodie Foster, Batista, Jeff Goldblum, and Charlie Day into one of the most unlikely cast mashups imaginable.

When involved in action sequences, Sofia Boutella is a captivating femme fatale, whose performance will hopefully not be overlooked.


JAPAN CUTS 2017: At The Terrace (テラスにて)

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Veering from scathingly funny to scathingly…scathing, AT THE TERRACE is, overtly an adaptation of a work for the stage as Kenji Yamauchi crafts a film version of his own play. It is heavy on dialogue and light on movement; the entirety of it takes place on the terrace of a party, on which a rotating cast of partygoers plus the soiree’s married hosts exchange pleasantries, which are often entirely unpleasant.

The first interaction falls between the late arriving Mr. Tanoura, an employee of Toyota, and Mrs. Saito or ‘Saito-san’ one of three, which includes her husband and another guest, making for some of the film’s wordplay based banter, and adding to its overall atmosphere of commotion. Exit Saito-san (or enter the house, thus exiting the scene) and enter Mrs. Soejima, wife in the couple playing host. Like a seasoned vixen, she corners Mr. Tanoura over his being taken with Saito–san. While chiding him into confessing his affection, Mrs. Soejima (played by a shrewd Kei Ishabashi) also sets about wooing the hapless Tanoura with her own charms. From the outset her expert gamesmanship is established. Along with these players, there is the other Saito-san, whose gaunt demeanor due to illness makes him unrecognizable to some guests that had met him a year ago, Mr. Soejima, the pompous husband of the party throwing couple, and the Soejimas’ uninhibited son.

What at first is playful soon becomes confrontational, as agendas are revealed. It seems a veritable den of sheep and wolves. Some look to satiate carnal desires that would be taboo in their everyday lives, while others like the sorrowful —san struggle just to survive the night. Hypocrisies abound as the lines of etiquette are danced around.

Shows contradictions between acceptable behavior and that which is actually practiced. It should be obvious to all but the most insensitive of brutes that if abiding by polite conduct, Tanoura‘s initial fancying of a fellow partygoer should be left a private matter. But the attendees seem compelled to go along with the discussion of the matter led by Mrs. Soejima , showing a staunch hierarchy, with the obviously wealthy hosts at the top. Yamauchi’s whip-smart narrative finds tradition clashing with modernized behaviors and interests. When the participants refuse to play by the rules, a spectacular mess of sordid intentions plays out.

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Kami Hiraiwa, who plays who plays Haruka Saitama (the Mrs.) does an incredible job of gliding from demure modesty to shameless abandon to hostile indignation. She is the center of an incredible drinking scene that calls upon physical comedy and subtle suggestion, at which she shines brightest amidst a collection of fine performances.

Yamauchi’s manner of revealing information about characters is done in such a way that never feels cheap or unrealistic. It feels as though we have been spending time with characters that have been playing a careful hand in a game routinely played in their social constraints, their cards being shown only when pushed to the point of necessity or exasperation. It is a dizzying thrill, with tensions cooled off by one of the funnier end credit sequences you’ll find in the festival season.

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AT THE TERRACE is being shown as part of the Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film at The Japan Society on Sunday, July 16 at 6:45 pm. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.


JAPAN CUTS 2017: Tokyo Idols


The idea of ‘Idol’ as it has come to be known in Japan is chameleon-like to those encountering it from outside Japan. Depending on who presented it, and when, it could mean anything from innocent agents of pop music and heavily choreographed dance routines to part of a more all-consuming movement that dictates the clothing its supporters wear as well as their behavior. Many outlets promoting Japanese culture abroad have presented features on Idols or advertised business that share the same cultural markers (Maid Cafes for instance, which also gained their foothold in Tokyo neighborhood Akihabara, have become a novelty in major US cities) in the same way that anime or J-pop is put forth as entertainment representing a Japanese identity. With TOKYO IDOLS, documentarian Kyoko Miyake takes a sober and evenhanded look at the recent phenomenon and how it is both affecting and fitting into Japan’s cultural landscape. Maintaining an objective stance behind the camera, her look at Idol culture is free of intimidating figures (save for one elucidating look at an Idol ‘election’ surrounding a collective at the culture’s forefront, AKB48) and charts or confrontational encounters with its subjects. It does not shy away from showing more insidious elements of its growth, however. The focus moves between aspiring Idols of different levels of notoriety (though, informative in its own right, none who have achieved mainstream success – were they reluctant to participate or perhaps even prohibited by talent agents?), their denizens, and analysts taken with the subject such as reporters and sociologists.

No bones are made about the awkwardness in seeing a dominantly adult male fan base rabidly following the activity of the young female personalities comprising this Idol scene. Scenes may inspire shock or a derisive sneer but Miyake gives voice to analysts who try to explain the phenomenon, critically, yet without ridicule. She also spends time with some of these followers, allowing them to speak for themselves. There are moments of sad self-awareness. Yet the humanity of the subjects is always there in the picture.

While there is much to be cynical about the industrious Idol machine given voice here, like the way it narrowly shapes the ideals of its young female hopefuls or the unrealistic notion of relationships it allows its consumers to remain bound to, it is not without hope. The star of the movie is certainly the plucky self-managing Idol hopeful Rio, whom we see working independent gigs with support from her daydreaming former rock musician father and more grounded mother. Her wit and determination is that of an individual who studies the game and is determined to win it on her own terms. We cannot help but cheer her on.

TOKYO IDOLS is being shown as part of the Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film at The Japan Society on Friday, July 14 at 6:30 pm. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

JAPAN CUTS 2017: The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always The Densest Shade of Blue


Tokyo has been mythologized in varied ways from without – a city of electrified neon excess, of constant movement, of individuals toiling tirelessly, head down minding their own business as they move between work and home. THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE captures some of these notions, but it is a refreshingly homegrown perspective from which the city ‘s character is eschewed.

It also weaves the tale of two individuals with strident characteristics whom circumstance would push toward one other in something like a romantic entanglement. Mika (Shizuka Ishibashi) works as a nurse, as well as part time at a hostess bar, and holds a dour outlook on life, which seems to be informed by her upbringing. She is a mainly solitary figure whose point of view we often learn via internal monologues. Otherwise, her conversations often veer toward the subject of death. Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu) works in construction. He is jovial toward his peers and, with vision out of one eye impaired, seems afflicted with a form of autism. His conversation is stilted and then comes tumbling out, often harping on a point passionately though it may be of little concern to his peers. The pair’s quirks make the forging of a new relationship a challenge, not to mention daily life in Tokyo particularly burdensome. Yet unlike in other tales of individuals struggling against the grain, Ishii’s rendering suggests that Mika and Shinji do in fact do a good job of blending in. They do not make a scene, save for Shinji’s stream of conscious utterances that occasionally stir the ire of the more alpha male type among his construction site colleagues, and if not for our look at their inner thoughts, they seem adept at getting by and sustaining themselves in Tokyo’s disinterested landscape. Yet this does not mean happiness figures into the equation of adapting to the codes of being young and alone there. It lends to the suggestion of some woeful realities facing a young generation of workers in this major city. The pair’s push and pull toward each other navigates a path that speaks volumes on the preoccupations of a generation: grim worldwide statistics being the click of a smartphone button away, while death is an entity forever looming near that can strike at any moment.

Yuya Ishii, the director whose previous film was the meticulously told The Great Passage, unspools his latest feature with nearly as much patience, though in a far more cryptic nature, standing in firm defiance of the notion that for a story to be powerful, things must constantly be happening. No doubt owing to its source material, a collection of poems by young Kobe-based writer Tahi Saihate. Some characters we meet make the briefest of impressions, a young man for instance, quietly enduring the noise from a party held next door by one of Shiji’s colleagues from the Philippines. At times ponderings take the form of roughly drawn animated sequences.

It is not so much a drudgery as it is a piercing sense of isolation among throngs of people passing through. Yet a quiet beauty occasionally bleeds through, colored by washes of that titular shade of blue. Along with these swatches of color, music imbues plain scenes with a magical aura as Ishii switches between a handful of mood-setting scores. There is also a cleverly inserted catchy mantra played by a street performer, at times supporting a cynical outlook but also lending itself to moments that suggest hope for the protagonists. And Mirraz’s ‘New World’ is an unusually well-suited end credit song, with the 100 words per minute vocals matching Shinji‘s the protagonists’ verbal jousts.

Ishibashi and Ikematsu’s portrayal of Mika and Shinji, respectively, are nuanced and compelling. Relative newcomer Ishibashi thoroughly and completely channels Mika’s resolute independence. It is a particular pleasure to see the hardworking Ikematsu, who can be seen in numerous Japanese films playing cool customer and problem solver archetypes, here embodying Shinji’s fragile psyche.

For those who have fallen under the spell of a particular magic created by Asian films telling the story of loners drawn together – Last Life In The Universe, On The Castaways On The Moon come instantly to mind – not to mention the stylized portrayal of Tokyo found in Lost In Translation, THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE is essential viewing.


THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE is being shown as part of the Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film at The Japan Society on Friday, July 14 at 8:30 pm. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Intro: JAPAN CUTS 2017

The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always The Densest Shade of Blue/夜空はいつでも最高密度の青色だ

Once again it is that part of the summer when the Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Films is ready to commence. Truly a survey of the past year’s Japanese cultural product, the 10 day affair essentially covers it all, from under-the-radar indie productions to mainstream studio crowd pleasers. The gamut is run from low key interpersonal dramas (OVER THE FENCE) to archetypal historical anime (IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD), and includes on its menu documentaries tackling social issues (TOKYO IDOLS, A WHALE OF A TALE), suspense thrillers (SHIPPU RONDO), experimental works both new and old (HARUNEKO, ONCE UPON A DREAM), narrative dramatizations of intriguing figures of artistic and historical relevance (THE EXTREMIST’S OPERA, FOUJITA). The festival opens a unique window to homegrown film ‘happenings’ like the Nikkatsu Studio’s Roman Porno Reboot project, from which they have shown an entry by revered cinematic instigator Sion Sono, who throws all of himself into the project whilst creating a feverish subversion of its tenets (ANTI-PORNO). The inherently Japanese samurai drama is given inclusion with a twist; placed in the unusual position of opening night film (MUMON: THE LAND OF STEALTH) – as the festival welcomes its prolific and esteemed director Yoshihiro Nakamura, known for festival favorites (Fish Story; A Boy and His Samurai) who will introduce the film and participate in a Q & A. With no intention of letting up on its recent run of hosting iconic guests, the festival will also celebrate its eleventh year with the appearance of venerated actor Odagiri Jo along with the screening of two recent films he has starred in (OVER THE FENCE; FOUJITA). Asian film fans of a certain age calling New York their home may have seen the actor get his start and continue along his path toward success, with his breakthrough performance in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2002 film Bright Future getting a theater run at the East Village art house stalwart Cinema Village in our current millennium’s infancy.

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Over The Fence/オーバー・フェンス

Notable of its current curatorial team, this edition of Japan Cuts continues to emphasize inclusivity and a tackling of social issues, perhaps with a greater sense of urgency than ever. This is evident in its screening of powerful drama by first time director Takuro Nakamura, NORTH NORTH WEST, whose two protagonists, an Iranian expatriate facing visa problems and a native Japanese lesbian, give voice to groups that are particularly marginalized in Japanese mainstream society. This year also shows a marked interest in redefining the boundaries of national cultural identity, showing it to be anything but simple; and celebrating its complexities. Along with NORTH NORTH WEST’s diverse starring cast, its lead actresses both scheduled to appear at the screening, screenings include Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s latest horror film DAGUERROTYPE, which finds the director working for the first time with an all French-speaking cast and filming in France and Belgium. Then, there is SUMMER LIGHTS, directed by French filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot, working for the first time in Japan with an all Japanese cast, which tells a tale of a documentary filmmaker visiting Hiroshima to delve into its traumatic history.


There is a noticeable favoring of more grounded, realistic works in this year’s lineup than that of fantasy or genre works. And don’t look to blame sister fest and perennial summer pal New York Asian Film Festival; it mirrors this tendency in their latest salvo. Perhaps it reflects both an internal movement among creative thinkers in Japan’s landscape, as well as a sense of responsibility among the fest’s programmers to educate as well as entertain.

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At The Terrace/テラスにて

Of the films in this year’s assortment that I’ve seen, an admittedly narrow slice of the pie, small scale, largely interpersonal dramas have by far fared the best. The film that I find myself wanting to scream from the hilltops for everyone to see is Yuya Ishii’s THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE, a wondrous mix of offbeat romance and atmospheric rendering of life in Japan’s great metropolis, Tokyo. Those who have fallen under the spell of Asian films weaving tales of unconventional relationships between hopeless nonconformists – Last Life In The Universe, Castaway On The Moon – need not hesitate to grab a ticket. Other highlights include Kenji Yamauchi’s witty and acerbic attack on social codes in his adaptation of his own stage production AT THE TERACE and the Jo Odagiri-featuring OVER THE FENCE, which tells a quiet yet intensely brooding tale of personal redemption. As visually stunning as it is unnerving, the aforementioned ANTI-PORNO is a singular cinematic experience, and surely this opportunity to see it is a rare one. From the documentary side, TOKYO IDOLS is a well-balanced, insightful glimpse into a phenomenon growing increasingly familiar to those outside of Japan at a surface level, which is being regarded with grave seriousness in its birthplace. Meanwhile, films of a more dynamic nature like Yu Irie’s adaptation of South Korean thriller MEMOIRS OF MURDER and the buddy action of ALLEY CAT, essentially a vehicle for members of the popular rock band Dragon Ash, have interesting moments but fail to satisfy on all fronts.

Tokyo Idols

There is much more to the festival, which begins July 13 and runs through July 23, all taking place at The Japan Society. For tickets and more information, visit the festival page here.

Mondo Porno: The Roman Porno Reboot films @ the 2017 NYAFF & Japan Cuts


One of the more exciting features of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival is its presentation of 3 of the films comprising 2016’s Nikkatsu Roman Porno Reboot project. And a bit later into the summer, sister film fest Japan Cuts will be featuring one very pointed film from the project. Referencing anything titled as such is bound to produce a range of reactions, from excitement to indignation to utter confusion, so some context is in order. 

Roman Porno refers to a mode of soft core pornography produced under the umbrella of Japanese film industry mainstay, Nikkatsu, when the studio was threatened with bankruptcy in the early 70’s. They put forth a modest amount of guidelines: have a scene of simulated sex occur approximately every ten minutes, produce the movies on a shoestring budget and shoot them within a week’s time. Casual and more ardent fans of Japanese movies alike will know them for their outlandish English titles, grouping together words with little or no regard to what seems conceivable. One is probably aware of the movement’s place in many a more established film director’s filmographies. The most famous instance perhaps being Yojiro Takita, director of the Academy Award winning film Departures, whose early career is peppered with them.

This revival project appeared in time for the 45th anniversary of those early films’ launch, with the selection of 5 directors to each helm a film following the same guidelines as those described above. Between the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts, four of these films can be seen in New York this summer, with the fifth piece of the puzzle (directed by horror maverick Hideo Nakata) maddeningly absent – one can let their imagination ponder over the reasons why. It is a curiously diverse quintet indeed. Most recognizable to overseas audiences will surely be Sion Sono (who is the mastermind behind the lone offering of the set to be shown at Japan Cuts) and, among the 3 presented by the New York Asian Film Festival, Kazuya Shiraishi, whose last two features, The Devils Path and Twisted Justice, were both selected for NYAFF (the former as a co-presentation of both NYAFF and Japan Cuts). The two other films’ directors have achieved no small level of commercial success in Japan, with works that are not altogether unfamiliar to NYAFF’s annual festival-going audience; Akihiko Shiota’s filmography includes fantasy adventure hit Dororo, for one. And Isao Yukisada’s entry features the instantly recognizable Japanese everyman Itsuji Itao, who’s graced the screen in festival hits such Scabbard Samurai and Hanging Garden, to name a few.

Giving attention to this project, aside from maintaining a degree of edginess, serves as a celebration of Japan’s very unique cultural landscape. Can you imagine, for just a moment, a cross section of 5 American directors both veteran and young, successful in the realm of both commercial and independent productions, and widely known being invited to create films of an explicit sexual nature? It just wouldn’t happen. It speaks of a singular sort of compartmentalization in Japanese society, which is by no means renowned for openness of expression, where numerous forms of cultural product are made and consumed by just as many audiences; what is deemed unfit for some is left to its audience, allowed to remain in relative obscurity without being the target of national scrutiny.

The results, which I will unpack a bit herein, are varied in approach and content, filled with self-reflexivity, and all worthy of one’s attention.


Kazuya Shiraishi’s DAWN OF THE FELINES, may bear the most fruit for discussion, while it is also arguably the most problematic of the bunch. Set in a metropolitan red light district, it tells the stories of three women working for an escort service, or ‘health express’ as it is referred to throughout the film. While aspects of the industry as it is has taken shape in Japan are intimated throughout the film (there are apparent loopholes that allow such business to operate undisturbed by the law, and while direct sexual intercourse is officially off limits, it is not entirely off the table) it is mainly an account of key experiences of the three women that illuminate each of their personalities and the details leading to their taking on this kind of work. Needless to say it involves some precarious situations, but it does not merely dwell in incessant gloom. It is easy to suppose this will be a cautionary tale, and be disappointed when events play out otherwise. There could be some understandable outrage at say the proportion of storylines involving the women aspiring to fall in love with their clients, claiming this is in direct opposition of empowerment. Yet when considering Japanese society is one in which forming new relationships outside of rigidly structured situations is out of the norm, it does not seem strange for feelings to develop in these intimate encounters.

Because of its subject matter, sexual scenes do not feel tacked on, nor are they as much the attraction as in the other films in its ranks. Sometimes they necessarily advance storylines, while elsewhere they are part of the backdrop. There is only one blatantly out of place sequence, rather ill-timed to be near the film’s ending, leaving a baffling off note in one’s mind as it concludes. Another sequence in which two of the characters are totally keen on participating in as the subjects of live BDSM performance seems a tad too convenient, and also does little if anything to advance any part of the story. But for the most part the scenes jibe with the overarching aesthetic of the film.

Shiraishi deals with an ambitious number of plots, with no one taking obvious precedence over the others. The first of the main characters we meet begins to form a relationship with one of her clients, a misanthrope and hikkikomori (a social condition considered epidemic in Japan wherein individuals refuse to step foot outside their home, or do so as little as possible). Her colleague, whose complicated personal life has led her to this career, finds popularity with an elderly customer and begins to feel a bond due to her apparent part in helping him to cope with his emotional duress. The third of the ‘feline’s stories is as much about her pursuit of a personal relationship as the apparent physical abuse dealt upon her elementary school-aged son. A difficult line is walked in telling these out-of the-norm stories while representing routine aspects of this escort industry objectively. And so it seems almost by design that some turns of events feel contrived. But, perhaps owing to the director’s experience directing true crime dramas, he adeptly maintains an objective voice in the mix. There are several points where one might expect a course of actions to lead to a cliché outcome to find that this is not the case. For the most part, however eventful occurrences may be, they leave a city largely unchanged, their impressions lingering in the air, much like the hypnotic film score that begins and ends the film (and is itself worthy of spending time with the film).

I revisited this film a lot. In some ways it feels as though it doesn’t quite transgress the more somewhat simplistic and exploitive movies of its kind. Yet seen in a different light, it is a rather honest portrayal of a phenomenon, steadfast in its unwillingness to lead the viewer to make certain judgments, and creates an impeccable mood and tone. Ultimately I admire the film for its very human presentation of its often marginalized subjects, presenting hardship while resisting the temptation to present them as victims.


WET WOMAN IN THE WIND stands as a nice contrast to FELINES’ complicated terrain. In addition to being free of much of the moral quandary attached to the aforementioned, it has a startlingly straightforward plot. You could easily say this is the film of the bunch that most sincerely embraces its form. It finds a successful playwright, who has sought refuge from distractions in a quaint rural retreat, ambushed by an enigmatic woman, just emerged from the bay. A self-described ‘love hunter’ she sets out to incur his adoration, while he spurns her advances in hopes of reconnecting with his creativity. Aside from some interludes involving the arrival of (at least one of) the writer’s romantic interest and fledgling members of their acting troupe, this is the mode of the film; save for the important distinction that once his attraction is kindled the ‘Wet Woman’ is determined to embrace his advances only once they occur on her own terms. Here is a refreshing diversion from the norm, in which female players are often characterized as submissive objects of desire. In this Reboot the titular character is very much the aggressor, and played with a gleeful mischievous energy by actress Yuki Mamiya (who will be in attendance of the NYAFF screening along with director Shiota).

The director’s statement on sex is a positive one. After several comic follies, in which the meeting point between the creative process of directors and actors are fair game, the final third of the narrative is a veritable race between three makeshift couplings toward an eventual (ahem) climax. Across these cases, sex is show to be an answer to frustration, an awakening, and a cathartic experience. Of course the main event amidst this three ring circus is that of the ‘Wet Woman’ and the playwright. It is filled with clever visual stunts and overflowing with energy. For those that want a pure and uncomplicated tribute to the genre, this is the film to be sure to watch.


AROUSED BY GYMNOPEDIES also feels like a throwback of a film aimed expressly at titillating its audiences. From its acid-trip title harkening back to Nikkatsu movies of old to its surreal affront of an opening sequence that finds a topless woman standing outside an archetypal suburban home waving cheerily at the main character (played by Itsuji Itao, as an ill-reputed film director), nostalgic eroticism would seem the express goal. But under the surface there is much to consider as well. While not wont to push topical buttons in the way DAWN OF THE FELINES does, its depiction of sex is most likely to offend, if given a straightforward read.

The plot deals with another creative figure, this time a director of just the sort of prurient fare representative of the Roman Porn output, who has a reputation in some circles as being an autere of extraordinary talent. The events we see, however tell a rather different story, as the director’s latest production is suddenly halted due to an uncooperative lead actress and a sudden freeze on funds. He resorts to all manner of depravity to try to collect the funds to get his production back on track, while at the same time experiencing occasional pangs of remorse for a romantic partner now hospitalized and kept alive by life support. The depths to which he sinks makes for the blackest of awkward comedies. I felt something very reminiscent of Lowlife Love, a drama by Eiji Uchida screened at last year’s Japan Cuts, in its characterization of independent film directors and their thespian hopefuls. Yet as a sendup, GYMNOPEDIES comes across with a lighter touch and more piercing barbs.

It may occur to audiences that its plot doesn’t necessitate any sex scenes at all, a notion that I do not feel is lost on director Isao Yukisada in the slightest. Rather, his adherence to form seems to be a pointed reference to the reliance on such exercises as a little more than a crutch, and tired tropes of film in general. After a point the main character’s sexual escapades make like a list of softcore clichés: actresses he has worked with, a student taking his college class, and if not blatant enough, a nurse in the hospital room where his incapacitated wife lays. And while initially subtle, at different points will it dawn on viewers that these scenes are increasingly arbitrary. The meaning behind the title will also hit viewers at different points in the film, to those not offended hilariously so.

GYMNOPEDIES may just have its cake and eat it too. While playfully commenting on its tropes, its required sex scenes are no less seriously rendered. So it goes, a scene like that in which (one of) the director’s exes concedes to subject herself to an S&M session with a stinging wire (its intended purpose connected with set design), it can be a hard scene to watch, even if it is in the spirit of self awareness. Some will no doubt be offended while others will find it hard to dismiss the precision with which the sequence is put together. The art of it is impossible to dismiss.

As in WET WOMAN IN THE WIND there are inventive, often funny, though definitely outrageous visual gags. While it is not going to win any accolades for being progressive in nature, it is a wryly funny production that cannot help but revel in the excess it is afforded.


It is pretty clear once one gets into infamous provocateur Sion Sono’s that his ANTIPORNO is an altogether different work from the rest of the pack, making its appearance in an altogether different festival seem perfectly logical. While probably the most anticipated of the pack for many (I would not have caught wind of the Reboot project earlier this year if not for Sono’s participation), it is, unsurprisingly, poised to surprise. Although its title may suggest a play on the Roman Porn’s seeming European influences, it is actually strikingly straightforward: This is Sono making a movie that is against porn. The renegade director is no stranger to this sort of subversive act. It calls to mind his somewhat recent and more difficult to obtain movie ‘Real Onigokko’ (or ‘Tag’ as it was titled for the foreign market) which appeared to be an official chapter in a franchise of slasher thrillers that turned the premise on its head and served as a bleak statement in condemnation those very movies.

As in other Sono films, it is set against a backdrop of vivid swatches of paint, making every frame a work of art to behold with colors indicative of a mood – alternating red’s and yellow’s are its main motifs. Nudity is so much the norm it loses most of its allure, and the film’s imagery conjures feelings of insecurity, physical disgust, and outrage within the main character. Set in the midst of a softcore porn film shoot it shares an element of reflexivity with some of its brethren, as well as painting those in charge of in with a rather unflattering brush. The star of the production within the production, and in effect Sono’s production itself, speaks knowingly, in one instance addressing the 1 sex scene per 10 minute rule it is meant to abide by. It is interesting to consider whether here Sono is presenting a form of mea culpa, he has been known to include copious amount of female nudity and scenes of an explicit sexual nature in some of his work. Or perhaps it is drawing a line in the sand, distinguishing his work from the Romans as delving into such areas for sound reasons as opposed to including it merely to gain commercial success. As in all of his works, it makes for fascinating discussion. More will be said about ANTIPORNO closer to its screening for Japan Cuts, but be assured it is as captivating a provocation as the best of his films.


WET WOMAN IN THE WIND is being shown at the Walter Reade Theater on July 4 at 8:00 PM with director Akihiko Shiota and actress Yuki Mamiya in attendance to do a Q & A as part of the 16th annual New York Asian Film Festival. Click here for tickets and information.

DAWN OF THE FELINES is being shown at the Walter Reade Theater on July 4 at 10:30 PM as part of the 16th annual New York Asian Film Festival. Click here for tickets and information.

AROUSED BY GYMNOPEDIES is being shown at the SVA theater on July 14 at 10:30 as part of the 16th annual New York Asian Film Festival. Click here for tickets and information.

ANTI-PORNO is being shown at the Japan Society on July 22 at 10:30 as part of the 11th annual Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film. Click here for tickets and information.

The article Nikkatsu Roman Porno Reboot Project by Karen Severns for FCCJ was references for the writing of this article.

New York Asian Film Festival 2017: 10 Films That Fascinate

The New York Asian Film Festival is primed to once again take its annual spot among New York City’s signature summer events. There is a distinctly different feel about it, with a slate of films that finds several directors turning inwards, and favoring smaller scale, tensely wound dramas over large scale bombastic thrill rides and effect-laden sensory smorgasbords,. Many look at conflicts experienced at the individual level; stemming from differences heightened in today’s society – of class, gender, generations; By looking at how these struggles ensue at a more local level, there is an overarching theme of seeking truths about what makes us tick as human beings, which in turn leads to insights of how people interact globally.


This year’s festival feels like a refreshingly forward-thinking edition, with scant few nostalgic screenings of works from years past, and a greater emphasis on new talent both behind and in front of the camera. There is overt interest in representing LGBTQ voices, and a new competition sections that will bestow an honor on one of seven productions by new talent. The salvo from each country’s offerings also seems geared to confound. From Japan, iconic characters of pop lore are all but absent as are supernatural thrillers. In their stead are solidly helmed dramas and tales focused around real life crime, at times grizzly, and often tinged with introspection and societal concerns. From South Korea, languid dramas stand out amongst the expected nail-biting thrillers that its industry has rapidly expanded from. Mainland China is represented with more of the sort of explosive action films largely associated with Hong Kong, while that renowned territory’s standouts are more heartfelt interpersonal dramas. While audiences of previous years have enjoyed pulpy genre gems from Thailand, this year the country serves up a crowd pleasing topical suspense yarn based around extremely intelligent teen protagonists, with a conscience to boot.

Here then are ten offerings, which are unique, challenging, and

certain to leave an indelible mark on your summer movie going experience.

BAD GENIUS (Thailand)

Bad Genius © GDH 559

A movie for and about teens, though easy for all to appreciate. Laden with colorful bursts of digital communications and set to a fast paced genre-spanning score, BAD GENIUS tells a story of kids too cool and too smart for school, who work their way into a college entrance examination scandal of increasingly epic proportions. Its first trick perhaps is making the seemingly mundane act of test-taking an edge-of-your seat spectacle that will have viewers feeling the beads of sweat dripping off the protagonists’ noses. The second is gaining our empathy for characters engaged in actions that most would easily classify as immoral. At its core is a conflict between haves and have-nots, yet it also delves headfirst into the often times challenging predicament of doing what is right versus what is profitable. Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, who plays Lynn (and is making her debut here) emits inner turmoil masterfully. Though its ending clips short what could have been an emotionally charged, idea-filled exchange, this is the sort of high wire act that is rare to behold and not to be missed.




This murder mystery from China has an alluring Sci-Fi premise that feels right at home in our Black Mirror obsessed society, with an eye for technology that could have deep social ramifications, and doesn’t seem that distant a reality. Memories can be removed and restored at a facility that is something akin to a top secret research facility crossed with a high security bank. When someone discovers they’ve left the facility with memories that were never their own it opens a world of intriguing possibilities. Stylishly shot in alternating warm and metallic different tones, the film is rife with confusion that fuels the viewer’s intrigue rather than frustrate. The film’s momentum is also stoked by its tackling of social issues by way of its dealing with cases of domestic abuse unflinchingly, all the while delivering on the suspenseful build fans of crime thrillers desire.




What looks like it could be an austere and static portrait of the ways of an indigenous people turns out to be an engrossing indictment of political corruption and self-assured exercise in white knuckled suspense, set around a cast of a modest few players. Groups from two distant worlds are hurtled along a path to crash violently into one another: On one side the caretaker of a nature preserve and his adolescent daughter, whom he teaches to hunt a rare eagle valued highly by the nation’s government; on the other, a pair of cops fresh off being assigned to a gruesome homicide case, one a jaded veteran who has long ago fallen in line with a system that is corrupt to the core, the other idealistic and eager to pursue justice in earnest even as it puts him at odds with his peers. The systemic flaws that lead to the tension between the story’s principals are never overstated. Writer/Director Mikhail Red simply sets forth the well-paced unfolding of a situation devised to perfectly encapsulate these maddening realities, recalling incendiary works like Graceland that have come before.



The haunting effects of watching this daring and confrontational film have as much to do with its form as the content. Starting out with what will strike some as an all too familiar trope of movies about Japanese ‘yankis’ (delinquent youth often caught up in gang activity), a young man wanders the street lashing out violently at those he comes in contact with, taking beatings in stride with the assaults he unleashes. This goes on for a seemingly interminable stretch, until it slowly dawns we are not looking at depictions of wanton youth positioned to seem cool. Violence escalates as a few other local teens factor into the equation, and discomfort is heightened with the viewer experiencing something akin to being taken hostage on a ride both quesy and compelling. Director Tetuya Mariko allows things to play out with an air of distance, recalling Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. While interested in studying the dynamics of violent incidences among disaffected teens, he does not shy away from steering the course. It is a jolting ride comprised of turbulence that gives way to occasional calm. Named for a single by seminal 90s noise rock band, Number Girl, DESTRUCTION BABIES may very well take influence from that band’s strident sound. The bassist and main force behind their sound, Shutoku Mukai was in fact charged with the film’s soundtrack. It’s a mostly incidental trail of occasional cacophonous bursts until the end credits, for which Mukai has created a smoldering slow burn of a song, like the embers of a once blazing flame that is finally coming to a rest.




Two distinct archetypes of underworld tales are interlaced in GODSPEED, which shifts its focus between a pair of old school gangsters with a tried and tested relationship, and an unlikely duo of a low level gangster making a drug delivery and a lifelong hustler that serves as his makeshift driver. Both duos engage in verbal exchanges indicative of a dry wit and apparent joy taken in the art of storytelling by writer/director Mong-Hong Chung. Tales that speak of hardened gangster morality chill to the bone while the road trip that ensues is filled with awkward hilarity. The end results suffer slightly from never truly paying off one mode or the other. However, writer director Mong-Hong Chung’s vision is more meditation on the paths individuals than soon-forgotten entertainment. It cannot be stated enough that the film is a visual paradise for lovers of dilapidated landscapes, including but not limited to the rundown bowling alley turned gang headquarters in the middle of rural obscurity.




Prolific director Eiji Uchida has a creative flair that has a lot of parallels to the path blazed by Sono Sion. Like that now infamous director, Uchida has spawned an array of narratives touching on various genres. He has been developing a knack for creating compelling sagas for characters occupying society’s fringes. This has included intensely spirited female protagonists and antagonists, damaged by some aspect of their upbringing. LOVE AND OTHER CULTS is a small scale epic centered around Ai, a girl raised in a cult who tries to adapt to a normal life once its leader has been arrested and the organization broken up. The off-kilter narrative picks up an odd assortment of characters along the way and grows increasingly endearing as it carries them forward. At once a story of true love and an exploration of how all groups, from cults to gangs to families, develop their own set of norms and rules of conduct, Uchida’s narrative veers away from straightforward progressions, instead approaching things with a Zen-like philosophy of positive and negativr evening things out in turn. It makes for one of the more unique and memorable stories told in this year’s lineup.


RAGE (Japan)


Dealing with homicide investigation, the forging of new relationships, and recovery from past trauma, Sang Il Lee’s sprawling tale is unapologetically confusing, especially given its spanning of time and place (which moves abut a cross section of islands in Okinawa) without clearly indicating where we are in in the narrative. One would be wise to not get too stressed over the details and let emotional logic take over. Like his previous film Villain, RAGE is a writhing livewire of passion, threatening to burst into a shower of sparks on contact. It is filled with strong performances from its cast, which includes powerhouses Ken Watanabe, Chizuru Ikewaki, and Satoshi Tsumabuki. As the details of each story blur, a unifying theme of trust and the challenges that come with it echoes throughout each. There is an undeniable sense of the heavy weight afflicting each character’s decisions. Even as the brain puzzles the pieces together, a strong sensation of catharsis is guaranteed.


SOUL MATE (Hong Kong)


This breathtaking tale of a complicated relationship begins with the writing of a serialized online novel that gives an account of a friendship forged between two girls in elementary school carried on through adulthood. From the outset they are shown to have very different lives, starting with their family structures. Yet an undeniable attraction between them follows as they go about their inevitably different paths. It is smartly scripted, with every line of dialogue fraught with meaning. While not a work of obvious feminism, it speaks of the trials experienced by women in earnest. As Judy, the friend with an ostensibly more supportive family life recalls her mother’s words ‘we are guaranteed to suffer’ the audience finds itself powerless to agree. The film also speaks of universal truths about maintaining what our apparently paths versus wanting to escape what is destined. Equally thought-provoking and heart wrenching, this is a dramatic work of immense proportions.




Herein lies a leisurely tour of a particular brand of hell as a reporter revisits the scene of a grizzly murder. He speaks with a young women implicit in carrying it out in a holding cell where she has been incarcerated, then moves through individuals she is connected with in school, mainly those who attended a prestigious college. While spinning off in seemingly arbitrary directions among individuals who don’t always seem significant, a bleak picture is formed, one that is not without some very ugly surprises and one that speaks of an intense sensitivity over social and economic class differences. With his first feature film Kei Ishikawa allows characters to indict themselves with long volleys of densely packed dialogue that are revealing without feeling unnatural. It is a quietly mesmerizing descent into an affecting nightmare.


A QUIET DREAM (South Korea)

A Quiet Dream ©

This is a pleasantly low key drifter of a slacker comedy that commands attention by drifting along airily, springing unexpected and delightful moments of humor as three late bloomers wander their sleepy town, mostly circling around a young woman of Chinese heritage who runs a small local tavern. While an object of their affection, she is just as much part of the group, deflecting their awkward displays of charm with an equal measure of obtuseness. Each seems to hold an albatross keeping them grounded. For her, it is being charged with caring for her now wheelchair bound invalid father. It’s monochrome tones convey the notion of being stuck in a hazy dream. And though it seems like the unglamorous troop may be missing out on something, A QUIET DREAM makes an understated proclamation of the value of the sort of true friendship they hold.

MPW9 Another Week in Wrestling: BACKLASH 2016

Mondo Wrestling 8 9.14.16

Knocked off track, trying to keep up to date with a bullet point style grazing of highlights, low-lifes, and oddities from the past few days of wrestling.

WWE Backlash


Smackdown Live’s first single brand only network special/pay per view since the brand split phase began was a very successful one. It retained the same relatively stripped down ethos of Smackdown, stretching out matches enjoyably. The focus on the program establishing its title scene had a simple but easy to get behind philosophy: wrestling to win championships.


The Six Pack Challenge for the Smackdown Live Women’s Championship

There was a good flow to the match, with an overall high quality of work. Alexa Bliss (my official favorite women’s wrestler on Smackdown) had a new look that at first glance was only slightly different, but added a lot of flair and character, going for something of a comic book villain, a little bit of a mean Barbie vibe with a splash of dominatrix leather. She also looked impressive during the match. It is not a surprise that she went on to become top contender to the title on the following episode of Smackdown Live.

While Carmella is not known for her technical wrestling skills, she played up her heel-ish persona quite well, adding an element of instability. She looked veruy intense overreacting to Nikki Bella slapping her, leading to a pretty vicious exchange of slaps before Becky Lynch would win the title. The new women to move up from NXT all looked strong leading up to the finish of the match. Becky is a compelling baby face champion, having kept up with Sasha and Charlotte when they moved up to RAW but never getting the title there. This carves out a niche for her.


The Miz VS Dolph ZIggler

This was a very good match with plenty of back and forth and a good conclusion, making The Miz continue to look strong since his more aggressive side came out some weeks ago on Talking Smack, yet by way of underhanded tactics. This gives Ziggler something to gripe over, yet if he does not see a change in character soon he will loose a lot of credibility as an interesting member of the roster.


The Tag Team Championship Tournament

This was a very nice continuation of the story from Smackdown live which left American Alpha knocked out of the tournament, the Usos as heels, and Slater and Rhyno barreling towards the titles and Heath’s official WWE contract being signed. The Usos came off well as heels, in some slick black ring attire. And, in a move we rarely see on WWE main roster programming we had a straight up feel good moment: Slater and Rhyno won, with Slater getting in some good offense, and then going on to celebrate in the ring. It didn’t feel overly rehearsed. In fact, one of the things that might be making their story as successful as it is owes to Heath’s storyline seeming a reaction to fans getting behind him. The chemistry between Heath and Rhyno feels organic and a bit spontaneous. A great moment with talent that probably would not be in the spotlight if not for the brand split.


AJ Styles VS Dean Ambrose

This was a very good match. AJ continues to be incredible at pacing matches and pulling out an impressive array of moves. Ambrose stepped up his meanness. The end of the match signaled an exciting direction with Styles’ star continuing to rise as the new Smackdown champion. The heel-lish low blow before the win showed AJ could get the win on his own yet is still not taking the high road.



Randy Ortron (not) VS Bray Wyatt

This was an ok way to recover from a shift in plans, as Randy Orton was not ok to wrestle, but covering for it with a staged ‘attack’ angle in the backstage area by Bray did not look very convincing. Orton coming out to deliver an RKO during Bray’s impromptu match with Kane did not help support the premise either. But it was an OK match considering it may have been cobbled together quickly. It did seem a bit soon for Wyatt and Orton to be having a full on match, and Wyatt did look good with running senton spot onto Kane on the outside ring announce table.



A lot of good things happened ion the show, and talent far from the top of the spectrum seemed only to gain from their work during the show. It has left plenty to look forward to from the Smackdown Live brand.