Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Review movie - 女囚さそり 第41雑居房 ("Josshu Sasori: Dai 41 Zakkobyo") - Female Convict Scorpion - Jailhouse 41 (Ito Shunya, 1972)

This review is x-posted to Ancient Worlds

A weakened old woman falls to the floor. On her last breath, she holds her knife before her, cursing Matsu (Kaji Meiko) who is sitting by her side. Matsu delicately prises the hands open and takes the blade in her own and the old woman dies. She stands up as the already autumnal landscape turns on its brightest colors, and a sudden outburst of wind causes the leafs to fall over the body under her reverent yet determined gaze until they cover it up completely. Fall becomes winter as another gust carries away the leafs and any trace of the old woman. Time seems to come to a halt before Matsu makes a sweep of her hand holding the knive before her face, the whirlwind this time making her hair stand up, her bangs dancing like as many flames....

This is, without a shadow of doubt, the scene that you are most likely to play in your head over and over, long after you finish watching the movie. Even if the landscape is undoubtly fake (a result of the shoestring budget this genre was shot on - not that it seems to be a problem for Ito Shunya, the director), there is a quality to it that's sheer poetry, even set against the harsh words of the old woman and the piercing gaze of Matsu. And in so many ways, it encapsulates in one moment how this movie still very much ties in with the first one ("Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion") while developping, at the same time, its own identity

But let's backpedal a little bit. If you have seen the first movie, you won't be surprised to find a shackled Matsu - whose real name, before she fell prey to the sordid plans of her boyfriend and was sent unjustly to prison, was Nami, often nicknamed "Sasori" (Scorpion) by her fellow inmates - in a cachot down in the deepest recesses of the prison. When Goda (Watanabe Fumio), the warden, turns up, we learn that she has been placed there in isolation for a year but will be exceptionally allowed with the other prisoners as a dignitary comes for a visit. If initially the visit is uneventful, all that quickly changes when Matsu is brought in: she had hidden a blade (made out of a spoon we see her hold in her teeth and sharpen on the dirty floor meticulously throughout the whole title sequence) which she uses to attack her tormentor. The other prisoners, who had appeared docile until then, start a riot that only ends when the prison guards start to shoot

Humiliated once again, Goda condemns all the inmates to hard work and arranges for Matsu to be raped by four men in front of the other women's eyes, with the hope that the public humiliation will turn them against her. He's proven right not long afterwards when, in the truck that takes them back to the prison, several inmates start beating an apparently diminished Scorpion until they believe her dead. Alarmed by one of them, the prison guards stop the truck but are attacked by a still very much alive Matsu. Seizing this opportunity, the other women team up with her, kill the men and make a run for it

This event marks the start of their journey in their desperate attempt to flee the law and confinement. It also marks a clean break in terms of storyline and concept. Taken as a continuity, both Female Prisoner #701 and the first part of this movie are very much of the Women in Prison genre, but with Ito, the director, working hard at turning every single concept on its head, twisting them as far as he could without completely breaking them. But when the women escape, it's also Ito escaping from the prison of a genre: very little remains of the parade of naked bodies in the title sequence of Female Prisoner #701, and even the (fleeting) lesbian scene is relegated to the background, quite literally, of the action. Most of Jailhouse 41 is really a road movie, one that owes much to the westerns, and in particular the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone (how fitting, when one thinks of how much the latter owes in turn to the Japanese cinema of the 50s and 60s!), although the tone and pessimism - the sense that this can only go badly for the escapees - probably recalls more strongly Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. This filiation, Ito asserts it from the very first images of the inmates running away in a wide shot in which they run clad in long ponchos, mere points against a desolated, dry landscape

Another, even more striking difference with both the movie that has preceeded it, and even more so with the one that will follow, Female Prisoner Scorpion #701: Beast Stable, is the lyricism and surrealism that permeates all, even when the acts depicted are at their vilest. Already the very first scene, the one which preceeds the title sequence, sets the bar incredibly high. All we see during a single shot that lasts what seems like an eternity, is a metalic door, a door that marks the limit between the life above ground, and the world underground. As the camera goes backward, ever deeper down dark stairs, the door grows further and further away, all while a spectral voice - which is not without also recalling traditional Japanese theatre, tying neatly the kabuki-inspired sequence from the first movie to the theatrical episodes present in this one - calls for Matsu, and the angle is such that you're feeling like you're half-drowning, half-walking down to hell, which is exactly where we find Matsu when we first see her. Immediately, the tone is set with efficiency and a surprising economy of means

No less efficient are the scenes involving the manifestation of nature: the passing of seasons at the old woman's demise, the waterfalls turning a bright bloodred to signal one of the inmates' rape and subsequent murder by passer-bys. In the former's case, as mentioned higher, it is clear that it's a studio shot, yet what could have felt cheap and cheesy due to stringent budget limitations turns to be a blessing, as once again it is completely coherent with the traditional theatre inspiration on which Ito heavily draws throughout the story

Of course, at the heart of it all is Matsu. If Meiko Kaji had made her her own in the previous installment, she is, this time around, carving her place among the pantheon of the most unforgetable characters in cinematic history - probably not too far from the "Man without a name". If she was hardly talkative in "Prisoner #701", her voice is heard here only on one occasion, so quietly that you could almost miss it if the words she said weren't so chilling. Two simple sentences, in every sense of the word: because in her mouth, those simple utterences are a condemnation of those who have betrayed her, repeatedly, just as she was trying to save them and she unflinchingly puts them to death. It is almost as if such words are the only one that she would ever use from now on, carrying the torch for the vengeful spirit they had encountered in the abandoned villages and who had passed on to her, along with the dagger, this unquenchable thirst for justice, this duty to avenge those who had wronged her, a ritual transmission that nature itself had willed

But while she does not - cannot - feel regret, the demise of those women, and in particular that of Oba (brillantly played by Shiraishi Kayoko, whose grimacing face, offering a perfect contrast to Matsu's quiet intensity, reminds us of a noh mask - yet another reference to theatre), who was the leader of the gang that had escaped with her and a woman who, driven insane by a cheating husband, killed her unborn child in her own stomach and drowned her little boy, saddens her. And it is at this very moment that the early image of Matsu being tied to a tree in a way that cannot not echo Jesus on his cross, begins to make real sense. To be honest, when I first watched it, this image seemed initially a rather cheap shot, especially since Scorpion is much more avenging angel than pacifier. But seeing Matsu closing her dying comrade's eyes was very much witnessing her giving a woman who had continued to sin to the very end (Oba continues to plot her return to her island, only to burn everything to the ground), the last sacrements coming from a figure whose tears of sadness and forgiveness give her a new, almost divine dimension, a dimension further reinforced by her journey over the course of the film, having risen from the dead (her confinement underground) to attain the blinding lights of the late afternoon sun reflected by the tall buildings of Tokyo city

She's given a new dimension, but at heart we recognize the Matsu we learned to love in the first installment. This same duality between break and continuity is also present at the social commentary level. It is undeniable that here, beauty, lyricism and visual experimentation - that is form, although form is never, in Ito's case, just an empty shell - are the most memorable aspects of this movie. But as you reminisce, on the heels of an explosion of colors and shapes comes the realization that it is, again, a brutal denunciation of the place of women in Japanese society, and a stark denunciation of the violence of the society itself, which is every bit as much of a cage for women as prison itself. In a way, it goes even a step further, offering an even bleaker point of view than "Prisoner #701" because then, Matsu had to fight against figures of power and authority, from warden to yakuza leaders, from corrupted policemen to prison trustees. This time however, the greatest danger comes from some of the tourists they encounter on their way, as well as from within (the inmates betraying Matsu). But we also understand that in the latters' case, it is society that has driven them to these extremes (and not the confined and specific environment of prison), which violence is illustrated in the last theatrical sequence when the fugitives are in turn condemned and beaten by villagers until Matsu stands up for them, literally, having broken free of the net that had hindered the others

Stunning, otherwordly, outrageous in its violence, religious references and social message, Female Convict Scorpion - Jailhouse 41 is an unclassifiable cinematic object which quality allows it to rise from the depths of a genre (often justly) not taken seriously to proudly take its place at the firmament of worldwide cinema and probably the ideal introduction to the whole Sasori series

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Review movie - 赤壁 (Chìbì) - Red Cliff part 1 (John Woo, 2008)

This review is x-posted to Ancient Worlds

Note: This review is based on the cut released throughout Asia (280 minutes in total) and not on the "International Cut" (one movie, 148 minutes - I still need to be explained that one o_0)

In 208 AD, the cunning and power-hungry Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) convinces his young Emperor Xian of the Eastern Han Dynasty that they should attack Liu Bei (You Yong), a warlord in the South, to prevent him from, supposedly, rebelling against the Emperor's central power. Liu Bei, in a bid to protect his people, leads them into exodus before the rapid progress of the much stronger armies of Cao Cao. A battle takes place in order to hold the latter off long enough for the population to reach safety

Liu Bei's strategist and advisor Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) convinces his Lord to seek alliance with their neighbor Sun Quan (Chang Chen), himself torn between surrendering and fighting against Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang, conscious of Sun Quan's dilemna, looks for support in Sun Quan's Viceroy and military strategist, Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) who, alongside Sun Quan's younger sister Sun Shangsiang (Zhao Wei, often referred to as Vicki Zhao) advocates resistance to Sun Quan. Having reached an epiphany after a tiger hunt, Sun Quan joins forces with Liu Bei: their 50,000 troops are about to clash with the formidable 800,000 men army of Cao Cao at Red Cliff, near to the Yangtze River, in a battle that will decide the fate of many....

First, don't worry: it's a lot of names, all characters with almost equal importance, and it is true that the Chinese (and many people throughout East Asia) are already familiar with them. Nonetheless, despite being not too familiar with late Han history and having never read "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (one of the Four Great Classics of Chinese literature which covers the events of Red Cliff) myself, I still didn't find it too hard to remember who was who. Also I want to underline - because reading reviews around the net made it clear it wasn't obvious to all, and the release of different cuts in different countries has made it all the more confusing - that this story, in its original incarnation on which this review is based, is divided into two movies (think Lord of the Rings) and that Red Cliff part 1 is, aptly, only the first 140 minutes covering the story up to the first skirmish at Red Cliff (part two ecompasses most of the actually battle). As a result reviewing these movies is necessarily a difficult job because one needs to keep in mind that each is only part of a whole but must nonetheless do a good enough job of standing on its own. Reviewing Part 1 though is met with more apprehension than Part 2; after all, it is the movie during which the events' background and characters' motivations are laid out, while Part 2 is much more centered on the battle itself, and John Woo, while reknowned for his action sequences, sometimes falters when it comes to actual story-telling more subtle characterization. In many ways, his work on Red Cliff (which marks the director's return to Asia after a long stint in the US) simultaneously confirms our fears while also marking a strong return to form after his rather disappointing output of late and, overall, the latter has a much bigger impact on the quality of the movie than the former

Still, it's fair to say that John Woo definitely has trouble dealing with the mundane, with scenes that don't include weapons/fighting/explosions/all of the above. As a result, his camera rarely stays still. Surely, the many trademark slow-motion sequences (when the screen doesn't freeze) and sudden zooms on the characters' faces might pass for a show of dexterity or even art, but honestly they are mostly distracting and are doing the slow-paced scenes a disservice by getting in the way of the narration instead of serving it. Only once does all that visual agitation actually give greater weight to a dialogue scene: when Zhuge Liang stands before Sun Quan and exposes his plan to him for the first time. There, the ballet between Takeshi Kaneshiro and Chang Chen, and the rapid changes of camera angles aptly reveal the characters' emotions, and particularly Sun Quan's turmoil and hestiations

On the other hand, the beginning of that same scene with the arrival of Sun Quan in slow-motion into the room seen from Zhuge Liang's eyes is the first in a long list of cringe-worthy moments, mostly due to John Woo himself, who's always had this fetish for manly men bonding in the face of (armed) adversity and who is occasionaly guilty of letting it run away from him. Seriously, there are many occasions for man-bonding between the two movies, and that's often very well pulled off. On the other hand, it is very heavy-handed when scenes become mostly about the characters themselves. Of all, it is definitely Takeshi Kaneshiro's Zhuge Liang who is the biggest casualty and that's a shame because he's actually one of the two main characters in this narration of the Red Cliff battle (the other being Tony Leung's Zhou Yu) and, traditionally, one of the most beloved characters and certainly the one with the greatest intelligence and quick wit. Unfortunately, under John Woo's direction, all these qualities take a backseat to Liang's attraction to just about anything human that passes by, although he seems most enamoured with Zhou Yu and Sun Quan both, an attraction culminating in that pseudo-orgasmic expression in the middle of a scene which involves him and Zhou Yu playing music together which completely made me lose focus on the drama and instead made me wish that Woo would get the two of them in a room and get done with it already. I really don't mind a bit of ambiguity and homoerotism thrown in the mix, but either use it with moderation or be ready to go all the way. Someone please lend him a copy of "Aragami" - I never thought I would ever accuse Ryuhei Kitamura of doing "subtle", but that's exactly what he did when handling the undercurrent of attraction in his own man-to-man face-off

I know it's hard to believe based on what I've written so far, but actually I enjoyed Red Cliff Part 1 thoroughly and think it has a lot going for it. Firstly it is undeniably gorgeous, and unlike movies like "The Promise", the quality keeps up throughout. Also, while I can lament some artistic decisions during dialogue scenes, these only occupy the central segment of the movie, which is situated in between two battle scenes that are so beautifully shot that you would almost forget the military genius they illustrate. Because in many way, that's what the movie is all about. It is, first and foremost, a riveting battle of wits and agility between brilliant men. On one level, there are the strategists: Cao Cao against the minds of Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu, who are in a sort of friendly competition among themselves as well (although the distant menace of a possible future conflict between their respective lords permeates the air and obviously weighs on their minds). To witness these minds at work, and to see how these ideas would translate on the field is riveting (and none more so than the set up to the "skirmish" that serves as a prelude to the actual battle of Red Cliff and which takes up most of the last hour of the movie)

And then there are the actual battles, where the four generals (Zhao Yun, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, all three sworn to Liu Bei, and Gan Xing, serving Sun Quan) are given time to shine. They have little impact on most of the events during the explanatory phase, which in a way isn't such a bad thing given the fact that it is the weakest part anyway, but they steal the show as soon as weapons are allowed to do the talking, not only because they are involved in some mouth-watering, breath-taking choreography and are, collectivelly, the more than welcome comic relief of the movie, but also because they plainly come across as fearless warriors on the battlefiled who are simply warm-hearted men when not fighting. I've certainly found myself cheering for them loudly in front of my tv screen on more than one occasion

I don't know how people who usually have little interest with warfare as represented in movies will react to Red Cliff Part 1. I suspect though that having John Woo, who it seems has recovered his full mastery over just about anything cinema that involves movement is enough to keep even the most skeptical viewer riveted to their screen. At the very least, it does its job perfectly as an appetizer - a luxury, meaty one, mind you - for the "plat de résistance" that is Red Cliff Part 2. It definitely makes you want to see more, and preferably as soon as possible

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Review movie - 女囚701号 さそり ("Josshu 701-go: Sasori") - Female Prisoner #701 - Scorpion (Ito Shunya, 1972)

This review is x-posted to Ancient Worlds

One night last year, I was lazily changing channels until I chanced upon a movie that seemed completely unfamiliar, the only obvious thing being that it was Japanese and from the 70s. I didn't bother to look it up immediately: had I done so, I would have found out that I had started watching an exploitation/women in prison movie, Female Prisoner #701 - Jailhouse 41. And it's a good thing I didn't as, while I had never fully watched a WiP movie before, I was familiar enough with the concept to know what to expect: violence and naked bits, especially women's, sex and torture, not necessarily mutually exclusive. Things that, when thrown in together, aren't necessarily my cup of tea

But I didn't so I gave the movie a chance and by the time, quite early into the film, I had figured what kind of movie it was, I didn't care anymore anyway

Because I was hooked. Simple as that

By the time it was over, I knew that not only would I want to see it again, but I would also want to see the others in the series. So I got myself the French digipack which includes all six movies: it's extremely light on extras, but for the price (around $60 - that is $10 per movie!), I don't find it in me to complain about it. Also, at least as far as this episode is concerned, the image quality is very good: given the fact that the four first movies have now more than 30 years, it is obvious they were restored, and I would imagine the depth of color might not be completely faithful to the original vision of the director and cinematographer, but I don't think it detracts from the movie in any way. The sound didn't fair too bad either

So it's in good conditions and pretty high spirits that I started with the beginning, namely Female Prisoner #701 - Scorpion, which tells us how the main protagonist, Nami Matsushima (Kaji Meiko), an apparently nice and rather shy girl, is used by the man she had fallen in love with, corrupt police inspector Sugimi (Natsuyagi Isao), in a plan that badly backfires for her. Sugimi doesn't hesitate one moment between money and his girlfriend and Nami, having just been abused by a gang of Yakuza, is left on her own. Betrayed and humiliated, she seeks revenge, attacking Sugimi with a knife in broad daylight and on the steps of the police headquarters. As expected though her attack fails and she finds herself arrested and sent to jail

These events are actually told in a flashback early on. The movie itself begins with Matsu, as she is usually called in the prison, and fellow inmate Yuki, attempting to escape. They are caught, however, and put in individual cells where they lie tied up on the ground, at the mercy of the guards and the no less sadistic prison trustees. As the head of the wardens uses the occasion to impose punishment on all inmates, the resentment against Matsu grows among the women just as her resilience and silent stubbornness only serve to infuriate the prison wardens even further as all their attempts to break her fail. As tension escalates, only compounded by Sugimi's scheme to have Matsu assassinated by fellow inmate Katagiri, it isn't difficult to tell that the situation is about to get out of hand....

The plot isn't the movie's strongest point, although it is decent enough and does work adequately as the background layer on which the more interesting and successful aspects of the movie are laid. Firstly, it is, undeniably, a feast for the eyes. Pinky movies were typically done on a shoestring budget, and here it shows, but somehow Ito manages to transcend that and make it a strength, rather than a hindrance: the scene of Nami's first time and the transition to the sting operation are great examples of that. You couldn't have done it with less props and in less time, yet it tells you all you need: a four-posted bed and candles would hardly have made the scene more interesting, quite the contrary in fact.

It is hard also to believe it was Ito's first movie (almost as hard as it is to believe Ito has done so few movies since!): no scene is left to waste. At every turn, he will find an angle or come up with a device to turn every moment of this movie into as many visual pearls, helped in that by the excellent cinematography of Nakazawa Hanjiro. Every shot is powerful, from the lush greens of the vegetation as Matsu and Yuki are trying to escape, to Matsu's return to prison after having achieved her revenge. What's more, many of them do add to the story, instead of just being exercises in style, even if, when you're watching this for the first time, some might seem absurd: that's true of the more psychedelic visuals, very much anchored in their time (the "transformation" of Nami into Scorpion as she lies on the floor after having discovered Sugimi's treachery) just as much as it is of those which, in the contrary, transcend it (trustee Masaki who, in her rage, ironically resembles a Kabuki character; interestingly, this reference to traditional Japanese theatre will be taken one step further in "Jailhouse 41")

Another great strength of the director is his ability to simultaneously embrace the Pinky genre, all the while turning many of its concepts on their heads(once very literally as the scene unfolds upside down). Most WiP standards are present: naked women, sadistic wardens, lesbian scenes, violence with fountains of bright red blood, torture, really, I don't think he missed a single one of them. Which doesn't come as a surprise, after all, as it is exactly what the Toei wanted. But they never quite turn out to be what we expect either. Sadistic wardens also turn out to be impotent, their batons having to substitute for their sexes when they want to abuse Matsu as she is tied up in her cell. On the other hand, when given a chance, the prisoners will have little problem to collectively abuse their jailers by using their bodies, in an almost surreal scene: joyous, with the women not in on the action rhythmically chanting and moving their feet and arms, mimicking what could pass for a ritual dance of old

It comes in complete contrast with the scene of Nami's rape by the Yakuza gang: the most we get to see is a breast at the beginning, the rape itself being shot from under Nami's shoulders as she lies on a transparent, glass-like surface. All we see are the grotesque expressions on the yakuzas' faces; colors and sounds both are muted. Together though, these particularities are exactly what makes this scene stand out and it turns out to be surprisingly disturbing. It is a credit to the director not to make rape banal or even erotic in the slightest, which one would have expected from that kind of movies

The "obligatory-lesbian-scene" also is a case in point. You can tell from the lack of impact on the main storyline that this is nothing more than an interlude, that it was added as an afterthought, because you have to have one. Although that makes it one of the least interesting scenes in the whole movie, it is saved however by the way Matsu acts and is being filmed. Even though she initiates the move, she is never overcome by passion; in fact, it is hard to tell if she derives any pleasure from it. What she does is move slowly and meticulously not unlike, one might suggest, a predatory animal, an obvious reference to her "Scorpion" nickname. But in this case, her sting is not so much lethal as it is paralyzing, probably because she's recognized her prey as not being a threat as much as it is a pawn in her enemies' hands

Of course, for this scene to be credible, you'd need an able actress. Only Kaji is not just an able actress. In fact, her performance goes beyond the notions of "bad" and "good". She just owns the role completely, in a way few other actresses have, managing to make it appealing to both men - her undeniable beauty and sex-appeal - and women - as an avenger of all the wrongs society have committed, and continues to commit, against us. You therefore cannot help but forgive the director for including her in just about every scene, and for the many, many close-ups on her face, and most importantly, her gaze. Matsu never speaks much, although she does utter a few sentences (much more than in the following installment in the series), but her eyes do all the talking, making her presence menacing even though she's, after all, a slender woman without extraordinary physical strength. Her only power lies in her resilience and ability to set her goals and withstand what she has to in order to get there

There are many more aspects of this movie that would deserved to be discussed and expended upon, in particular the implications regarding Japanese society, and, to some extent, developed countries societies as a whole, in the 70s and beyond: the use and abuse of women as a work- and life force, their instrumentalization (the stain of blood on the white sheet, a result of Nami's defloration, taking the shape of the Japanese flag before becoming diformed, related to the Japanese flag floating at the beginning and conclusion of the movie and to the banner outside the building at the top of which seat the Yakuza boss and Sugimi); the development of post-war, industrial society as one devoid of humanity, and which ultimately "devours" those that make it (forced-labor consisting of repetitively digging the ground only to fill the holes again right after; the symbolic burial of Matsu by the other inmates when she stands alone in the trench)

But at the end of the day, "Female Prisoner #701 - Scorpion" is more about an experience for the senses and the mind than it is about words. It is definitely not suitable for children, and the faint of heart may want to give it a miss too. As for everyone else, don't let its Pinky/WiP affiliation fools you, although it is in part the very use - and diversion - of the codes of the genre that makes it both a delectable guilty pleasure and a great and unique movie

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Review music - Radiohead, "OK Computer", 2009 Box Set Edition

There's little that I could add to everything that's been written in the 12 years since OK Computer, Radiohead's third and most celebrated album so far, was first released. I wouldn't hesitate to say that this is the last really important album in the history of pop-rock to this day (by "really important", I mean that it had such a profound influence this side of pop-rock that you can clearly identify a "before" and an "after" OK Computer, and that said influence is still evident more than a decade later). There is also little doubt that in it they've taken that style of music as far as it could be taken, before thoroughly smashing through that limit with their following "Kid A" and "Amnesiac". Is it their best album though? Well, you're likely to get very different answers if you were to ask fans at any of the band's concerts (and personally, I prefer both "Kid A" and "In Rainbows", which music sounds more "free" to me somehow, for lack of a better word), but the relevance of OK Computer, its seminality, cannot be disputed

I however wanted to write a few lines on EMI's latest cashcow, the 2CD + DVD pack re-release of OK Computer. Ok, in all fairness, the whole thing and its tag price (just under £13) are actually very decent, unlike their previous attempt at cashing on the band's back catalogue, namely the "Best of": if you are new to Radiohead, do yourself a favor, forget the latter and buy the former instead. Even if it only represents one chapter of their musical adventures, the addition of another CD containing most of this era's B-sides on top of the album itself (which doesn't sound like it's been "remasterized", thank you EMI!) and a DVD, reminds us of one major aspect of Radiohead's music: their albums form a whole, where the songs and their order are carefully thought through and executed, and only reveal themselves fully when listened to as such. Typically, no matter how remarkable most original B-sides titles are (with special mentions to "Meeting in The Aisle" and "How I made my Millions"), it is unthinkable to replace any song on the album itself with one of them, or add one of them to the original 12-songs listing

As for the DVD, note that the documentary "Meeting People is Easy" is not on it, despite what Amazon UK had listed for a while at their site. There is relatively little material: the video clips to "Paranoid Android", "Karma Police" and "No Surprises", as well as 3 songs performed live on Later with Jools Holland, BBC2's evening show. They could all be found elsewhere before, which is also true of the B-sides, but having them all together in a relatively small box and for a reasonable price is definitely convenient, making it a good buy for the completists, those who had some of the songs/recordings missing from their collection, as well as those new to Radiohead and who didn't have OK Computer before - for just the extra pounds/bucks/whatever your local currency is, this is definitely the edition you should go for

OK Computer [2CD + DVD] at

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Review movie - つみきのいえ ("Tsumiki no ie") - Pieces of love vol. 1 (Katô Kunio, 2008)

This review is x-posted to Ancient Worlds

If you've watched the Oscars this year, you may have noticed that the Japanese won two prizes: Best Movie in a Foreign Language and Best Short Animation. I will review the latter here, although the former is definitely high on my to-review list and should follow here soon

Although Katô Kunio's speech when he received the award had definitely caught my attention - see below - it's actually almost by accident that I bought the DVD, which just showed up one day on my recommended items list at Amazon Japan. The title ("The house in small cubes" as it is officially translated from Japanese), and, especially, the sheer loveliness of the cover illustration, in a style that one wouldn't expect coming from Japan, but much rather from France (or at least Europe) are really what got me to buy this in the first place. It's only when I received the DVD with its bright gold sticker announcing the Oscars' victory that I connected the dots

The artwork might not be what we've come to expect from Japan, but the finesse in the storytelling, the way the themes which are at the heart of this short, wordless tale (a mere 12 minutes, which you can choose to watch with or without narration - the characters never speak, never need to really) are laid out is definitely something that is more likely to come from Eastern Asian cinema than from anywhere else. The story in itself is as simple as they come: an old man, living alone in the middle of his pictures illustrating his past life, keeps having to build up new storeys in bricks as the level of the sea keeps rising. One day, as he's moving up, he lets his favorite pipe slip and it falls to the bottom of the sea. The old man decides to get it back and get scuba gear to dive in. As he swims down storey after storey, he is reminisced of the many memories of his life, some bittersweet, most happy

It might sound like tear-jerking fodder, but it is everything but. In fact, I couldn't readily give you the name of a movie which talks of loss and isolation, but is also a celebration of life and acceptance, more dignified than this one. It is always touching (the choice to go with a rather old-fashioned hand-drawn artwork being totally justified here and lending it extra charm and warmth) but never wallows in self-pitying nostalgia. Also, there may be no dialogues, but the story definitely has its own voice through a beautifully composed music evolving alongside the main character's inner thoughts and emotions

I cannot recommend "Tsumiki no ie" enough. It is suitable to all ages, although it will definitely make more sense to adults who have already been through some of the happy and sad times that life has in store for us all. The DVD can for now only be imported from Japan as there is no release in either North America or Europe, as far as I am aware (and then you can also probably watch this on any number of video-sharing sites, but if you like it enough, the right thing to do would definitely be to buy it.....)

Katô Kunio's speech at the Oscars - probably the best thank-you speech ever

Tsumiki no ie's teaser trailer

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Yet another reviews blog

As if there weren't already many of those around *g* Still, I love discussing all things arts and culture, and maybe I can make you want to watch a movie, or you can make me discover a new band - sharing, this is what reviewing should be about. At least that's the way I see it.

My interests lie firstly in music and movies, although books, both ficitional and non-fictional, as well as exhibitions and general culture posts are also in sight....