Thursday, January 5, 2012

Matthew Hardstaff's Top 5 DVD Releases of 2011

J-Film Pow-Wow contributing writer Matthew Hardstaff had a monumental 2011 with he and his girlfriend welcoming their first child. This might have kept him out of the movie theatre at times, but it didn't keep him away from the video store! Here are Matthew's favorite DVD releases of 2011.

Sleepy Eyes of Death Volume 2 (Animeigo)

The nihilistic badass samurai is back with 4 more films. Nemuri Kyoshiro quickly became one of my favourite samurai characters to grace the silver screen after my first viewing of the original boxed set. However it contained only the first 4 films of the series, and it wasn’t until the fourth film that the true bastard outlaw samurai’s form had truly taken shape. Now, with the next four films in the series, we are treated to the Nemuri Kyoshiro of Renzaburo Shibata’s serialized tales that we only received glimpses of. What these films lack in blood they make up for with perversion and nihilism. Plus, we’re treated to the late great Raizo Ichikawa, his blank, sleepy eyed stare and the hypnotic full moon cut! My favourite purchase of 2011! Now let’s hope they release the last 4 films featuring Ichikawa.

Kuroneko (Criterion)

If we learned anything from Kaneto Shindo’s "Onibaba", the man knows how to weave an engaging and haunting tale filled with feminist undertones, some spectacular black and white imagery, and boiling with an underlying eroticism. "Kuroneko" is no different, and in fact builds on the spectral eeriness and splendid cinematography, creating a brilliant cacophony of the macabre. Witness one of a handful of films that helped to establish what is now the typical genre trappings of J-horror.

Still Walking (Criterion)

During its festival run when I saw this at TIFF, this was one of two films that made me cry (the other being "JCVD"). Hirokazu Kore-eda’s beautiful, poignant tale explores how we inherit the small gestures, the tiny idiosyncrasies, from our parents, despite or in spite of ourselves. It’s touching and moving, and utterly remarkable because it’s able to tell more about human nature than most films with ten times the scale. Or maybe that’s why it works so well? Either way, this is another masterwork from Kore-eda, and my personal favourite of his.

Zebraman 2 (Funimation)

The first installment of "Zebraman" was hilariously entertaining and brilliant in its presentation of the tokusatsu genre. Here Takashi Miike turns the series up to 11, creating an utterly insane and madcap superhero film that takes no prisoners. Miike isn’t known for his subtlety, and this film is no different, but he has a knack for going so far over the top that it winds up in places you couldn’t even imagine. For a guy who became famous for making films that disturbed that hell out of people, he makes incredibly entertaining family films, which is a testament to his ability as a director. This film is a perfect example of his skill.

13 Assassins (Magnolia)

Speaking of Miike and his burgeoning ability to weave films of all genres whilst always turning it up to 11, 13 Assassins was one of my favourite films of 2010, and would be higher on the list if it wasn’t for the fact that this is the international cut of the film, and not the original version. Regardless, this is not your grand daddy’s samurai film. Whereas the original film criticized the feudal society as a whole, here Miike seems content to a more condensed version of the same theme, presenting the world of the samurai as a bloody, filthy, dirty mess, where men, once committed to an ideal, will follow through with it no matter how much it may end up morally opposing them. Men are blinded by their faith, and what follows is a blood bath like no other, where the only person that wins is the one who literally throws dirt in the face of his enemy. He deconstructs the samurai mythos with dirt and blood. And it’s beautiful.


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