Matthew Hardstaff's Top Picks of 2009 and the 00's
Top Five Theatrical Releases of 2009
I have a confession. For the last year of my life, I’ve been deep in production on my own feature, Bluebird. Having a fulltime job whilst trying to make the film doesn’t leave much time to for other things, including watching films. I get to watch the occasional DVD, but my consumption of recent films is naught. I’ve gone from watching a movie a day to one a week, if I’m lucky. I haven’t seen anything that was released theatrically last year from or in Japan, so my list is the 5 films I wanted to see, but was never able to.
1. Love Exposure (dir. Sion Sono)
I have yet to see a Sion Sono film I didn’t like, and the idea of watching a four-hour epic makes me rather excited. He pushes boundaries that very few filmmakers dare to push. Love him or hate him, his films will challenge you. And that’s what a good film should do.
2. Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura)
I did actually have tickets to see this film at After Dark, as the J-Film Pow-Wow co-presented the film. However, due to my own daftness, I was promptly hit by a car whilst crossing the road (my own fault entirely) and spent the time I would have used watching the film talking to the police. I’m a big fan of Yoshihiro Nishimura, so this is required viewing for me.
3. Symbol (dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto)
This played at TIFF, but my TIFF attendance was limited to two days. This film was not playing on either of those days. I loved Dai Nipponjin, and can only imagine (well I can’t really) what zany antics ensue, and it makes me sad that I missed it, as I hear its quite amazing in a what the *%#@ kind of way.
4. Air Doll (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)
With or without Koreeda directing this film, which is one of the many great things going for it, besides its original and amazing concept, the inclusion of Bae Doo-na as the doll is one of the biggest draws for me. Whilst not as popular in her native Korea as she probably should be, she’s an incredibly engaging actor who is also very easy on the eyes.
5. Yatterman (dir. Takashi Miike)
Some people don’t like the G rated Miike, but I still love him just the same. I thought The Great Yokai War was incredible, and everything I’ve seen for this film makes it look absolutely insane, so I’m all for it. He somehow still manages to subvert the genre’s he’s working in, even if it’s in subtle and unusual ways. Even a Miike kids film is a kids film like no other.
Top Five DVD Releases of 2009
1. Audition (Shout! Factory)
Shout Factory’s Blu-ray release of Audition isn’t great just because it’s a Blu-ray release of Audition, but also because the audio commentary between Takashi Miike and Daisuke Tengan is amazing. Besides the plethora of information presented, not just about the film and the process under which it was made, but also about Miike and Tengan and their future projects, the commentary should prove to all that having a moderator, someone to pose questions to the cast and crew during lull times is essential.
2. A Colt is my Passport (Criterion/ Eclipse)
This film oozes cool. And the gunfight finale is amazing. For me the epitome of Nikkatsu action cinema and the borderless style they popularized. A Japanese film classic. Part of Criterions Eclipse series in the bright pink Nikkatsu Noir box. If I have one complaint, its that Criterion needs audio commentary on their Eclipse series DVD’s.
3. The Human Condition Trilogy (Criterion)
A nine and a half hour film starring Tatsuya Nakadai! Yes please! Need I say more? The man’s never been in a bad film. Another wonderful Criterion release that allows all to bask in the terrific humanist drama that unfolds in Manchuria during WW2. All the film is missing is audio commentary. If Peter Jackson can do his 1 million hours of commentary for Lord of the Rings, someone should be able to cover the nine and a half for this classic.
4. Wandering Ginza Butterfly (Synapse Films)
One of my favourite Meiko Kaji films, Synapse Films put together a wonderful DVD with a great commentary track by Chris D. I think it’s obvious that according to me, all good DVD releases must have good commentary. Regardless, I’d still be happy with this DVD sans the commentary, because the film is so damn good and Meiko Kaji is so nice to look at. If there was a contest for the most mesmerizing eyes in the history of cinema, it would be a tie between Meiko Kaji and Tatsuya Nakadai. They say more with their eyes than most actors do with all their tools combined.
5. Sleepy Eyes of Death collectors set Vol. 1 (AnimEigo)
Animeigo gives us the first four films in the longest running Samurai series of all time. Raizo Ichikawa died at the age of 37, so any and all films of the amazing Japanese film and Kabuki actor is a pleasure to get my hands on. A half breed samurai with a disdain for Christianity and a penchant for death, even by todays standards the series is strikingly original, and Raizo Ichikawa is incredibly compelling.
Top Ten of the 00's
1. Visitor Q (dir. Takashi Miike, 2000)
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You may even become a little nauseous. Miike puts you through a range of conflicting emotions in such a short period of time, he turns a simple Pasolini inspired family drama into a astonishing piece of digital cinema. You will never look at necrophilia the same way again.
2. Electric Dragon 80,000V (dir. Sogo Ishii, 2001)
Some films are so incredible visceral they astound me. Electric Dragon is not only one of those films, it’s one of the best films that convey the notion that film is not only suppose to engage you on an emotional level, but also a physical level. And it helps that it’s by one of the most influential Japanese directors in the last 30 years. Plus, anything that has Tadanobu Asano and Masatoshi Nagase in it, squaring off against one another in a battle for supreme electrical supremacy is bound to be amazing.
3. A Snake of June (dir. Shinya Tsukamoto, 2002)
By the time Shinya Tsukamoto was about to embark on his journey into the feminine side of body horror, he’d already established himself as one of the most original and daring Japanese directors in recent history. But with A Snake of June he also established that he was capable of taking his visceral style and using it to create a film that’s beautiful and touching. The imagery, especially that of the dew covered plants and snails, is breathtaking.
4. Still Walking (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008)
I’ll be honest. I cry when I watch films. Not a lot of films, but some. Well, very few. But 2008 saw me cry twice. This first was during JCVD. The second was during Still Walking. I haven’t cried since either of those films. It’s amazing that no matter how sad and/or depressing the subject matter might be, Koreeda always manages to turn into something astoundingly beautiful. It’s an incredibly small film, but at the same time its ideas are so large and universal, it’s amazing your brain remains intact by the dense nature of his work.
5. The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (dir. Mitsuru Meiki, 2003)
This is how every pinku film should be made. A dash of sex and nudity, a smidge of surreal imagery, a large amount of political subversion and the use of toy action men to represent panic in the war room. Any film that has a woman violated by George Bushes nasty trigger finger should automatically by nominated for every award imaginable.
6. Tokyo Gore Police (dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2008)
Love him or hate him, Yoshihiro Nishimura has become a special effects giant . He’s worked on a wide range of popular horror films, and has singled handled pushed the envelope for gore special effects so far, it’s impossible for anyone to turn back. Gone are the simple days of red paint and mannequin limbs. And despite how this film appeals to fan boys around the world, it also manages to be uniquely Japanese, with plenty of references to the likes of Edogawa Rampo and all the social problems unique to Japan , such as ritual suicide and trendy teenage girl wrist slicing.
7. Rinne (dir. Takashi Shimizu, 2005)
Takashi Shimizu changed the way we watch horror films. And with Rinne, he established himself as a master of the genre. He takes the warping of time and space that he established so well with the Ju-on films and pushes it to a new level, without relying on the same type of horror that Hideo Nakata made so popular with Ringu. He creates a truly original and inventive horror film that still uses horror, not gore, to shock you, and he does it oh so effectively.
8. Paprika (dir. Satoshi Kon, 2006)
I appreciate a good anime film, and nothing floored me this decade more than Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. While many other anime directors seem content to recycle the same content and imagery, Satoshi Kon pushed the envelope with Paprika. Its imagery is mind boggling. Visually nothing even comes close to the marvel that is Paprika. Just thinking about it still drives me batty. And just saying the name Paprika gives me goose bumps. I bow down to Satoshi Kon and his marvelous brain.
9. Kairo (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
Best apocalyptic horror film ever! No one creates seething tension like Kurosawa, and no one can make you leave the theatre feeling like you want to pull a black plastic bag over your head and scream. It’s so simple in its execution, but it’s so damn unsettling.
10. Dai Nipponjin (dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2007)
Very few films will leave you scratching your head, laughing at the ridiculous nature of what you’re viewing on screen, and then asking yourself what exactly you’re laughing at. Is that a monster with the head of Riki Takeuchi? This is one of the most subtly funny films you will ever see.