Saturday, May 21, 2011

Our Top Ten Favorite So-Bad-They're-Good Films

Sure, we at the J-Film Pow-Wow get a little high brow at times. We love our classic films and we are suckers for art house fare. That doesn't mean we're entirely boring cinephiles. We like to grab a six-pack, order some pizza and all land on the couch for a goofy film every once and a awhile too. Who doesn't? And when we're in that kind of mood what's better than a film that's so bad... it's good? You know the films we're talking about -- the ones that are so astoundingly bad that they end up on heavy rotation in your DVD player any time you need a laugh. Now, that's not to say that this month's Top Ten List is just made up of films that we love to laugh at. No. These are films that we actually enjoy and laugh with. They're films we're in awe of for their bad acting, razor thin plots, less than zero budgets and just plain bad taste. So next time you find yourself getting tried of marvelling at the lofty heights of masterpiece film-making here is our list of some of it's most breathtaking (and brilliant) lows. Enjoy!

10. Dump Truck Woman vs. King of Hormones (dir. Sho Fujiwara, 2010)

This top ten list has had to be one of our most contentious. As the old adage goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure. There's no film on this list that comes closest to that than Sho Fujiwara's ultra-trash movie "Dump Truck Woman vs. King of Hormones". This is a film that both Marc saint Cyr and Chris MaGee caught in Frankfurt at the 2010 Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival. The screening was sold out, but by the half way mark 50% of the audience had left. Why? Maybe it had something to do with the bargain basement camera work that looked as if it had been shot on an old VHS recorder. It could have been the special effects that consisted of Halloween make-up and plasticine. It could have been that the acting was about on the level of community theatre. Most likely it was because of just how offensive the content was. You see the title character, Dump Trunk Woman (played by Hiromi Miyagawa) didn't come by her nickname from driving a dump truck. It's because she never bathes and smells like a dump truck! She also swears like a yakuza thug and ends up first in a romantic relationship with cannibal serial killer King of Hormones (Demo Tanaka), but the love turns to hate and soon Dump Truck Woman has to battle it out in a martial arts match with her former beau in which she utilizes her body odour as a weapon, continually farts and throws off her male opponents by getting her period mid-brawl. See what we mean? So why isn't this trash masterpiece sitting at #1? That's because the other members of the Pow-Wow think Marc and Chris suffered some kind of head injury to think this is so-bad-it's-good. They think it's so-bad-it's-terrible. This isn't an easy film to find in North America, but "Dump Trunk Woman" is available in japan on DVD. If you have a region free player we say to pass your own verdict on this one of a kind film. CM

9. Full Metal Yakuza (dir. Takashi Miike, 1997)

Now before you you throw us in a sack, stick us full of acupuncture needles and cut our feet off let us explain why we've included a Takashi Miike film on our list. Lord knows, Miike has given us some truly zany films through the years. You just need to look at scenes from "City of Lost Souls", "Gozu" and "The Happiness of the Katakuris" to see that. For the most part, though, Miike's unique brand of weirdness has been inspired, and sometimes brilliant, rather than just being outrageously bad. We say "for the most part" because when you've churned out as many films as Miike has throughout his career you'll probably squeeze out a few turds. One of these has to be 1997's "Full Metal Yakuza". This film is Miike's answer to Paul Verhoeven's splatter sci-fi classic "RoboCop". Instead of Peter Weller playing a cop who is transformed into a cybernetic crime fighter Miike has actor Tsuyoshi Ujiki play a low level thug who is transformed into a robotic yakuza who seeks vengeance against the gangsters who killed him. "Full Metal Yakuza" was one of Miike's mid-90's V-cinema films, so this is far from his art house attempts like "Izo" or "Big Bang Love Juvenile A". This story of a man coming back from the grave with the help of technology has its tongue planted firmly in cheek and its budget sitting somewhere around what a fast food worker makes in a year. Yes, there are moments near the end of the film that indulge in some pretty abysmal violence towards women, but there is more silly than serious in this Miike offering. Character actor Tomorowo Taguchi shows up as the mad scientist who brings our fallen yakuza back to life chews every piece of scenery put in his path, including the moment when he trains Ujiki to fight off gunfire by doing a crazy little tip-toe dance. This moment alone ensures the place of this film on our list. CM

8. S&M Hunter (dir. Shuji Kataoka, 1986)

The Brits have had a long tradition of ridiculously funny naughty films and TV. All you need to do is look at a series like "The Benny Hill Show" or the nudging/ winning "Up" series of movies to get a dose of T&A and laughs at the same time. While the British have a talent for this kind of fare the Japanese have an astounding flare. One of the best examples of a low budget, tongue-in-cheek and wildly creative sex film has to be Shuji Kataoka's "S&M Hunter". The whole film centers around the quest by the famed S&M Hunter, played by pink film veteran Shiro Shimomoto, to free a kidnapped man from a group of switchblade wielding and often topless female gang, The Bombers. S&M Hunter isn't afraid of switchblades (or boobs) though. His area of expertise is tying up women and sending them into spasms of ecstasy. It's sounds insane, and trust us, it is insane, but what makes its bawdiness brilliant is the films goofy sense of humour. The tour of the S&M brothel that kicks off the picture is worth the rental alone, but the spider web sequence and the puzzling inclusion of a fork lift in the closing scene just adds to the madness. Viewer beware though! "S&M Hunter" isn't just bad, but it's in bad taste. It features repeated Nazi outfits and paraphernalia. As long as you're not easily offended then you'll be ready for a good/ bad movie with a loads of naughtiness to boot. CM

7. Junk (dir. Atsushi Muroga, 1999)

Zombie films are perfect fodder for the so-bad-it's-good genre, and Japan has produced quite a few of those. One that stands out in our mind is Atsushi Muroga's "Junk". The set-up is simple: a group of yakuza have pulled of a jewel robbery and end up at an abandoned warehouse to go over their haul. The only problem is that thios warehouse is far from abandoned. It turns out that it was once a front for a secret U.S. military lab whose doctors where attempting to synthesize a chemical that would ressurect dead soldiers on the battefield. Haven't these guys watched any zombie movies?! Don't they know how bad that whole idea is?! Apparently not, so soon after their research started the test subjects feasted on the doctors and the military men and now the yakuza have woken them from their undead slumber. Atsushi Muroga would go on to direct the less-than-stellar "Gun Crazy" duo of V-cinema action films, but with "Junk" you have the perfect beer and popcorn so-bad-its-good film. There are a few scares throughout "Junk", but only a few. For the most part the zombies are fumbling, bumbling eating machines. The yakuza on the menu are annoying... all exceot for actress Miwa who is turned into the cannibalistic Zombie Queen. She provides the eye candy by being the only zombie who looks pretty good naked. What more can you ask for? CM

6. The Calamari Wrestler (dir. Minoru Kawasaki, 2004)

For many people pro-wrestling is already so-bad-its-good, but when you're director Minoru Kawasaki then men in tights slapping each other around isn't nearly bad enough. Kawasaki, who also brought us the absolutely absurd "Executive Koala" goes for more zoological source material for his 2004 film "The Calamari Wrestler". No, the wrestler of the title is not just a guy who eats a heaping plate of calamari before fights for a bit of a protein fix. No, he actually is a squid! Well, at least a a guy in a fabric and rubber squid costume. You see the Calamari Wrestler used to be the champ Iwata, but everyone had thought he had died years before after a serious illness... but he didn't die! He was transformed into a giant squid by a Buddhist monk and is now back in the ring. He's also back trying to win the heart of his old girlfriend Miyako (Kana Ishida). Sure, Kawasaki's wrestling epic shoots for high camp, so we had to debate amongst ourselves as to whether "The Calamari Wrestler" should be included on our list of so-bad-they're good films. If the director intentionally aims for badness the film may just feel a little too deliberate. Then again, there are few films as bad as "The Calamari Wrestler", and even fewer that are as fun. The montage sequence in which the Calamari Wrestler and Miyako reignite their romance by shopping, eating ice cream and walking along the beach will have you doubled over with laughter. We can't think of a better reason to include this film at #6. CM

5. Battle Royale 2 (dir. Kinji Fukasaku/ Kenta Fukasaku, 2003)

Even before it went into production, “Battle Royale II: Requiem” had the odds stacked against it. As a sequel, it would be attempting to match, if not exceed, what many now call a modern classic of Japanese cinema. Pushing aside its main draw factors (being its controversial subject matter and blood-spattered mayhem), Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale” is compelling, confrontational and laden with fascinating ideas and solid performances that make it easy to see why it is so greatly admired. And then we have “Battle Royale II,” the weaknesses of which could be partially attributed to Fukasaku’s tragic death in early 2003 during production, requiring his son Kenta to complete the film. But even considering that unfortunate circumstance, it is still pretty apparent that the sequel’s reach for its predecessor’s greatness is severely hampered by some obvious and in some cases downright entertaining flaws. One is the return of the previous film’s young protagonist Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who has re-envisioned himself as a brooding prophet-warrior complete with a cave of flickering candles where he frequently sits in a corner wrapped in his robes. Every now and then, he gives a speech in the name of freedom against the totalitarian regime of the grown-ups, the biggest of which accompanied by swelling strings and triumphant rays of sunshine. But the real treat to behold in “Battle Royale II” is Riki Takeuchi as this outing’s BR program commander. His performance is virtually Shakespearian in its over-the-top quality, enhanced by a wide number of props (a knife, pills that are consumed at an astonishing rate, a beloved rugby ball) and utterly ridiculous gestures and facial expressions. He bounces all over the Ludicrous Scale throughout the film, but his final scene is so gloriously bonkers that it really needs to be seen to be believed. MSC

4. Kekko Kamen Returns (dir. Takafumi Nagamine, 2004)

Manga artist Go Nagai is probably best known for his characters Manzinger Z, Devilman and Cutie Honey, but Nagai also brought us one of the most absurd (and titillating) female superheroes of all time with Kekko Kamen, or "Splendid Mask". What makes this heroine, whose adventures ran in the pages of Monthly Shōnen Jump between 1974 and 1978, so "splendid"? Well, she wears a mask, gloves and boots... but not much else. That's right, Kekko Kamen is a naked superhero. What exactly is her superpower? Ummm... Well, her battle cry is "Open! Thighs! Jump!" That's right, Kekko Kamen uses her vagina as her weapon, leaping into the air and literally flashing her genitals at unsuspecting (and usually male) criminals and then proceeds to smother them between her thighs. In keeping with Japanese censorship laws Kekko Kamen's girl parts are obscured by a blinding flash of light. This nether beacon was carried through when Kekko Kamen leapt from the pages of her manga to an animated video series, and it also made an appearance once she went live action in Hikari Hayakawa's 1991 live-action V-cinema adaption. That film was all high camp and low brow naughtiness, but our favorite in the live-action "Kekko Kamen" series is Takafumi Nagamine's 2004 film "Kekko Kamen Returns". In this incarnation Kekko Kamen is portrayed by actress Misaki Mori. Our nude heroine must come to the aid of Mayumi (Aki Hoshino) and the other girls on the high school swim team who are under the grip of an evil super genius swim coach, a torture specialist and a guy in a frog costume. The evil swim coach attempts to turn the girls into super divers like those air-pump frog toys you'd get in supermarket vending machines as a kid. It's up to Kekko Kamen, her boobs and her vagina to stop this despicable plot. We're not making this up, folks... CM

3. Jigoku (dir. Teruo Ishii, 1999)

Now before you say, "'Jigoku'?! That might not have been Ozu, but that was a good film!" hold on for a second. Our #3 film is not Nobuo Nakagawa's visionary trip to hell "Jigoku". That film did bankrupt Shintoho Studios after its release in 1960, but that's not the film we're talking about here. The "Jigoku" that we have in our #3 slot is the one directed by exploitation master Teruo Ishii, and it definitely qualifies for being so-bad-it's-good. On paper the concept of Ishii's "Jigoku" sounds pretty darn compelling and quite grim. The film dramatizes some of the most infamous criminal cases in late-20th century Japanese history. Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult who released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in March 1995 is here, as is Tsutomu Miyazaki, the "Otaku Killer" who murdered four young girls in Tokyo and Saitama in the late 80's. We see them being punished for their horrendous sins by a cast of demons and devils. Before you think "Jigoku" was a hard-hitting comment on these criminals you might want to watch the entire film. Ishii, who brought us such films as "Horrors of Malformed Men" and "Bohachi Bushido Porno Jidaigeki", steeps his entire film in "Roadrunner" and "Bugs Bunny" cartoon-like violence and plenty of gratuitous nudity. Our tour guides to the perils of hell is Rika (played by pink film actress Kinako Sato) a member of an Aum Shinrikyo-type cult and the Queen of Hell herself, played by 1950's pin-up star Michiko Maeda. Seeing Miyazaki getting his tongue yanked out and sliced into pieces would be gruesome and disturbing if it weren't for the fact that it looks like the special effects were designed by geeky high school boys using their $10/ week allowances. The over the top demon costumes just add to the badness and hilarity. If gallons of fake blood don't put you off then Teruo Ishii's "Jigoku" definitely fits the so-bad-its-good bill. CM

2. Attack Girls' Swim Team vs. The Undead (dir. Koji Kawano, 2007)

With Matt being a competitive swimmer in a past life, he has pointed out to us that it seems to be the one sports genre that’s never been able to churn out a solid film. In that case "Attack Girls' Swim Team vs. The Undead" should be no exception. You’ve got the swimming sports sub genre, combined with pinku eiga, zombies, and high school melodrama, with a twinge of covert trained assassins, but all with absolutely zero budget. That's a sure sign of trouble right there, but with so much sheer insanity and creativity is on display (not to mention the amount of bare flesh on display) that what should be a train wreck turned out not to be. You'll definitely have more that a few "what the f**k?!" moments watching "Attack Girls' Swim Team vs. The Undead", including the sex-inducing flute playing and the vagina laser, but what more could you ask for from a good/ bad movie? Koji Kawano's follow-ups to "Attack Girls", including the splatter horror "Cruel Restaurant", don’t have a tenth of the same madcap energy that this film contains. Who says you need a budget and respectability to make a damn entertaining film? MH

1. Iron King (dir. Noriaki Yuasa, Tokyo Broadcasting Systems, 1972-1973)

Is our #1 choice a bit of a cheat? Yes and no. It's true that we normally restrict ourselves to choosing our top ten entries strictly from feature films, but when you have something as utterly absurd and fabulously bad as "Iron King" we just had to bend the rules. You see "Iron King" was a TV series that ran on the Tokyo Broadcasting System between 1972 and 1973. Like the iconic "Ultraman" the series "Iron King" revolves around a normal man who can magically transform himself into a giant robotic warrior. We can hear you now... ""Ultraman" wasn't exactly Shakespeare." You're right, it wasn't, but when you compare him to Iron King our favorite silver giant starts to look like Laurence Olivier. You see when Iron King is not fighting the evil monsters of the Shiranui Clan he is a dopey fellow named Goro Kirishima who wears horn-rimmed glasses and a red Tyrolean hat. He travels around Japan with Gentaro Shizuka (Shoji Ishibashi), a singing cowboy who also happens to be a secret agent and his girlfriend, a Native American... who's actually Japanese. If that isn't weird enough Kirishima can only transform into his Iron King alter ego by being properly hydrated. Once he turns into our towering hero he can only fight for about a minute and a half before he gets dehydrated. This means he normally gets his ass handed to him by his monster rivals and then Kirishima runs around frantically chugging down any and all drinkable water he can find. And then Gentaro sings a song. Riiiight.... Diredctor Noriaki Yuasa, the same man who brought us Daiei's "Gamera", helmed "Iron King", but even hardcore (and very forgiving) kaiju fans will be able to see the connection between the giant turtle and this bumbling and thirsty version of Ultraman. Even for tokusatsu series "Iron King" was moronic... and so much fun! That's why he tops our list of the absolute worst of the so-bad-they're-good films. CM


Ian said...

How about Haruo Mizumo's 'Siberian Express'? Or was that too much of a sitting duck?

Peter Nellhaus said...

I would dispute the inclusion of The Calamari Wrestler. A more literal and less imaginative filmmaker would have made the film as a kind of CGI extravaganza. Kawasaki's genius is running with a silly idea and making it even sillier with the animal costumes that look like costumes and working within the limitations of a modest budget.