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Idiot Savant Japan: Takeshi v. Takashi

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Idiot Savant Japan: Takeshi v. Takashi

You may be asking yourself: “Where is Vadim Rizov’s glorious self-pleasure music column?” Answer: Suffocating under its’ own pretensions with the rest of Mumblecore (ba-dum-ching!). I kid. Vadim is taking a break this week and graciously allowed me to pinch hit due to my own missed column from last week. So it’s only fitting that I expand on the topic of last week’s “Live” at Grassroots episode, “Big in Japan”: the Yakuza film. With the series at Asia Society kicking off tonight in traditional giri/ninjo fashion, I’d rather skip all that boring historical stuff and focus on two directors who are synonymous with the popular, modern Yakuza flick.

Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike would gain international acclaim for their portrayal of the post-modern gangster via their casual violence, sadistic humor and splatter gore. Kitano is best known as a cross-over star who was shunned by the Japanese film industry with his first film, Violent Cop (whose literal translation is basically Warning, This Man is Wild—although for a laugh, plug “?????????” into Google Translate). Kitano stepped into the role as a director-performer after Kinji Fukasaku dropped out. At this point in his career, he was best known for his manzai duo (The Two Beat), variety shows, and appearing on talk shows as the “Dennis Miller” character, who would harp on someone for a good laugh.

Professor Casio Abe’s Beat Takeshi vs. Takeshi Kitano examines the concept that Kitano’s entire performance and style is directly influenced by the differences found in the mediums of television and film. Kitano—who “acts” under his stage name Beat Takeshi, but directs using his full name—may run a surreal TV game show with no prizes awarded, but he can then ignore that and craft a film like Sonatine, which relishes in its violence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFQTU8CFkm4

Quickly boiling the plot down: Murakawa (Kitano) is the sub-boss of a local gang who is dispatched to Okinawa to mediate a turf war. Upon finding that nothing is really happening, his headquarters in Tokyo is blown up and his group is ambushed. The survivors drive out to the seaside and take up residence in a shanty, opting to now spend their time playing games along the beach. In the scene above, Murakawa decides to have his underlings fool around with a gun, quickly turning playful adolescence into a suicidal fantasy after the game turns to Russian Roulette. The gun isn’t loaded, but he later dreams about shooting himself—this time “winning”—and keeps a massive smile on his face as he does so. (In his book, Abe writes that Sonatine is a spiritual and intentional sequel to the same themes explored in Violent Cop.)

No surprise to anyone, Sonatine was a commercial failure. Most of Kitano’s films were until 1997’s Hana-Bi (marketed internationally as Fireworks, though the title may be more literally translated as Flower-Fire). The why and how of this being his “break-out” is curious, since you really find nothing different than you would in his previous films—aside from the slapstick heavy Getting Any?, but that is in itself too “Japanese” for any distribution to a foreign audience.

But at least he wasn’t Miike, who toiled in the bowels of V(ideo)-Cinema for years. Starting later than Kitano, Miike made a name for himself producing cheap, under-budget films for the insanely successful VHS/Home Video craze. Between 1991 and 1996, he unleashed 20 films, three of which were sequels. His work is known mainly for the quirks he puts into it— Shinjuku Triad Society focuses on a gay love triangle among Yakuza and the police; Rainy Dog explores being an outcast by reversing the perspective of Japanese immigrant racism; Full Metal Yakuza is like a slap-stick Tetsuo: The Iron Man by way of Robocop.

Of course, Miike too found real success in the foreign film festival market—namely, the Midnight brands. Fudoh: The Next Generation, Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer all propelled him into the realm of splatter-shock which grossed audiences out, but also had them marvel at the intentional genius of hand-held footage and seeing the “superhero” Ichi save a woman from her pimp, only to confess he wants to be the only one who rapes her.

Miike and Kitano take their Yakuza in the disillusioned sense. Best seen in the remake of Fukasaku’s Graveyard of Honor (given the Shin or “New” adjective in the original title), Miike paints a bitter and destructive picture of a folk tale that was considered honorable in the sixties.

But it is fitting that these two directors have such similar views portrayed through drastically different styles (Kitano, reserved and sudden; Miike, lavish and self-indulgent—dare I break out the “disgustingly decadent” too? I shall.) The best examples of their own fascination with the genre have to be Miike’s Dead or Alive: Hanzaishia/Dead or Alive: Birds and Kitano’s Takeshis’.

Miike’s film explores all the angles one expects of the director now, especially after Mes’ “Agitator”: the concept of being foreign despite looking similar, lack of family, societal breakdown, corruption, gore, inventive hand-held tracking shots and the “no one gets out of here alive” vibe. But in this prelude to Ichi, Miike creates an incredible character driven plot between the ten minute opening and world-destroying ending. His seedy underworld is populated with the kinds of characters Fukasaku made infamous in his Battles Without Honor series.

As for Takeshis’, there is a similar parallel I find here to the concept of “Yakuza cool”. Kitano’s self-referential style, especially after Zatoichi and Brother, is brought to a full-tilt boogie. While many are turned off by the notions of duality that he has inevitably started hammering into his films, it is fascinating—especially prefaced with Abe’s essays—on how Kitano’s Beat and Takeshi personas interact. In Takeshis’, nearly every Kitano staple is involved, playing different roles and acting out little inside jokes—Kitano’s personal love of tap dancing, the Japanese studio system, how most “period” films shoot inside using blue screen instead of sets. But it is the role of “Beat” Kitano in the film, the struggling actor with bleached hair who works at a convenience store and happily plays the part of ultra-stylish gangster. He openly gets into gun battles, robs banks, and never seems to have any fun. He desperately wants to—even during the hilarious “final battle” (on a beach straight from Sonatine) as he fires a semi-automatic into a progressing line of Edo-period Yakuza and modern riot squads.

But in order to fully appreciate them, you do need to know your history—so get to the Asia Society tonight or to Japan Society for their continuing No Borders, No Limits series, especially next Friday’s screening of Plains Wanderer.

It may not have existential, new wave concepts—but it’s got a horse! And a theme song! (Thankfully, the Yakuza film theme song trend has died.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S_N0tZPL70
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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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