Monday, August 24, 2020
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
SHINOBI NO MONO (1962)
Directed by Satsuo YAMAMOTO
Starring Raizo ICHIKAWA
Before Sho Kosugi, before Michael Dudikoff donned Ninja hoods there was Raizo Ichikawa who was also known as the "Japanese James Dean". Raizo would act in over one hundred and fifty movies all for the Daiei motion picture company. In fact two years after Raizo's death in 1969 the Daiei studio would go bankrupt. Of all of his films it was the Shinobi series which would propel Raizo into super stardom.
Shinobi no Mono is set in the first year of the Tensho period (1573). The Tensho period would be marked by the the daimyo Oda Nobunaga the ruthless warlord whose burning ambition was to conquer all of Japan. Nobunaga was opposed by a coalition of other daiymo and Buddhist sects. It was in particular the Buddhist people that Oda was particularly fond of displaying his penchant for destruction. In 1571 (two years before Shinobi is set) Nobunaga destroyed a Tendai monastery and massacred all of the occupants of this holy ground. Historical context is needed to fully appreciate this film as it is very much rooted in history.
We begin the film by meeting Goemon (Raizo Ichikawa) a mid ranking ninja of the Momochi clan. He is a young man with endless ambition who one day wishes to assume the head of the clan. He and the other ninja are summoned to a meeting led by Momochi (Yunosuke Ito). During this meeting we learn the origins of ninja. The art of Ninjutsu was created by En-no-ozunu during the reign of Emperor Tenchi. Ninjutsu was then spread to various monks to extend and protect Buddhism. The very religion that Nobunaga is so bent on destroying. The Momochi clan has vowed to work for daimyo opposed to Nobunaga as mercenaries.
Along side this political context lies personal dynamics. Ninjas for all their special abilities are after all only human and it seems personal rivalries are amongst one of the many problems of a ninja clan. Goemon and fellow ninja Yohachi vie for top spot in the Momochi clan. The Momochi ninja clan and the Nagata ninja clan are rivals. Kizaru (Goemon's counterpart in the Nagata clan) vie against other ninjas for the honor of top ninja. Goemon gives into his carnal needs and begins to have an affair with Momochi's wife Ino-ne who is very much neglected by Momochi. If this sounds very much like a soap opera it is because it is and takes up the first act of Shinobi.
A scene that really shines for me is when Ino-ne is fraught with paranoia that Momochi is watching her and Goemon. It is here we see the power of the ninja. Using deception, secrecy and stealth the ninja can confuse and get into the mind of an opponent. To give away anymore of the plot would be to ruin the film.
I must confess I have always been intrigued by Ninjas since I was a small boy so I will always have a soft spot for films featuring Ninjas. I recommend Shinobi no Mono to aficionados of ninjas but more importantly to Japanese cinephiles. Shinobi no Mono is a film very much steeped in Japanese history. The "action" scenes of the ninjas are very much a standout for me. We see the ninja use all the skills of their trade, shurikens, smoke, dexterity etc etc. One final note the cinematography of Takemura Yasukazu is absolutely exquisite.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
CRAZY WORLD was the closing film of the 2019 Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival it it blew the roof off of the Ryerson Theatre. That screening will go down as one of the most memorable and energetic screenings in the entire history of the program.
The film centers on children kung-fu masters who use their martial art skills to battle child kidnapping mobsters. Nabwana I.G.G. brings his Wakaliwood gonzo action that we first saw with Who Killed Captain Alex? and continued with Bad Black. The midnight screening was made even more special as V.J. Emmie provided live commentary as the film played. Here are my interviews with Nabwana I.G.G. VJ Emmie & Alan Hofmanis.
Here is an amazing moment when Midnight Madness called Wakaliwood!
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
The Lilly Library Indiana University Oct. 27th, 2016
“In old age, words escape me. If I wait patiently, they float up, and I recapture them. If that fails, I am obligated to go down to the cellar, where they languish, and drag them back up. I note that water is starting into the cellar. I fear that some words will drown and be lost for ever. The quest for harmony of word and image has been my life. Sight loss is making the world look like Turners. While I still can, I hasten to testify.” John Boorman
One begins to read a book on John Boorman to further gain insight into the thoughts of a unique filmmaker who directed films such as Zardoz, Point Blank, Excalibur, Deliverance. To this end the book will satisfy those looking for further insight and kernels of more film knowledge. Such as Lee Marvin agreed to make Point Blank on the condition that they throw out the existing script and start anew. As well as how it was David Lean who unknowingly saved Point Blank and Mr. Boorman's first American feature film from being stopped before production was set to begin.
The book begins with the heading TYPEWRITER and Mr. Boorman writes of his teacher and mentor John Maquire who encouraged the sixteen year old to pursue becoming a writer. John's mother then bought him a used typewriter. "where I sat every night tapping away with two fingers, a bottle of Tipp-Ex at hand" He would go on to have some success publishing some short stories. This yearning for story telling would soon find another way of expression and become the major driving pursuit of John Boorman's life.
In the opening pages we read about when John begin to make movies on Super 8 with his school friend Barry Vince."This was our fantasy. Film-making was a distant dream and occupied by people who went to Oxford." These pages took me back to my high school days and making films with my friend John Harvey and our VHS cameras. Running around our hometown as gangsters and suffering artists. Our movies were first inspired by John Woo, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. As we continued our films became more personal and more art-house with our love for grindhouse still embedded in our short films.
A notable early passage where Mr. Boorman speaks about beginning to make the film The Emerald Forrest and living with indigenous people of the Xingu region of the Amazon rain forrest and how the tribe sees themselves as part of the greater whole rather than seperate beings and how our fixation on individuality can be alienating. As I reading through these particular pages I was thinking of the current moment of time we are all sharing amidst the spread of COVID-19. Of the need to collectively wear masks in public that do not necessarily protect us but to protect the other people we will come into contact with. Mr. Boorman takes this philosophy and applies it to making a film. "However clear your vision , you cannot make a movie on your own. You need a tribe. As a director you struggle to communicate to the cast and crew the essential nature of the film you are making. If things go well , there comes a magical moment when they 'get' what you are trying to achieve. From that moment, the film makes itself.' I was thinking of how the film-making process will be altered as time moves forward in the new era of the cornavirus Another exceptionally strong section for me personally was when Mr. Boorman takes us through his personal film school. Sections on writing, rehearsals with actors, another section on shot selection which will be a section I revisit often.
As I read Conclusions there were many times I had the feeling as though I was sitting by a fireplace in Wicklow Hills, Ireland across from Mr. Boorman as we spent an evening drinking scotch as I listened to his stories of film-making, life and friendships and family as well as his affinity for water and trees. As I was nearing the end of the book it really felt as though I was privy to a very private and intimate conversation with a person who is very much more than the films that brought me to this book. Mr. Boorman is clearly preparing for the end of a life lived. He has outlived many of his film-making contemporaries as well as losing friends and family. His words convey a sense of peace as well as preparing for death. He is still very much driven by imagination and curiosity of our shared existence and the planet we currently call home. As I read the last words of Conclusions there is a hint of regret in Mr. Boorman's words that so much of his time was spent in the pursuit of making films. Ultimately it is the life we have lived which is of utmost importance. Life is about the friends and family the precede us to the other side and the friends and family we leave behind. May our stories live well after us.
Thursday, December 19, 2019
As the decade draws to a close I thought it would be cool to look back at a decade of interviews I have conducted. This is no small undertaking I have been fortunate to interview a lot of people over the past ten years. What follows is one interview for each year. This is not be exclusionary, I am thankful for every person I have met under the strange circumstances of meeting them for a few seconds and then asking questions as a video camera records. What follows are only from video interviews not the numerous email and phone interviews from the now soon to be past decade.
2010 STAKE LAND TIFF World Premiere
At the 2010 Midnight Madness program I spoke with Director Jim Mickle who has gone on to make several more feature films as well as Hap & Leonard featuring the beloved characters of Joe R. Lansdale, actor and writer Nick Damici and as well as genre legend Larry Fessenden who in the past decade has continued to produce and direct provocative genre films as well as co-produce and contribute to Tales Beyond The Pale a horror podcast in the spirit of 1930s radio dramas. Larry has also written horror video games Until Dawn and Man Of Medan. These interviews would wind up on the DVD and Blu-ray release of the movie.
2011 OFF! NXNE Music Festival
I was working with my good friend Ryan O'Shaughnessy and his Tune In TO website. I interviewed Keith Morris, Dimitri Coats, Steven Shane McDonald and Mario Rubalcaba the members of the punk group OFF! this was a huge thrill for me because Keith Morris was the first singer of Black Flag. I have always enjoyed running around doing interviews at music festivals, a completly different vibe than my usual film festival beat.
2012 THE LORDS OF SALEM TIFF World Premiere Interviews with Rob Zombie, Sheri Moon Zombie and actor Jeff Daniel Phillips. Doing world premiere red carpet interviews are very short usually not substantive affairs. I try to infuse something unique in this quick snippets of conversation. My research lead me to the fact that Rob Zombie was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts which is not far from Salem. I brought this up as an ice breaker and our quick conversation lead to Stanley Kubrick. At the moment I felt we were vibing one another the moment was over. It was also cool that the film was well received at Midnight Madness and holds up. 2013 R100 TIFF World Premiere with Hitoshi Matsumoto This was an extremly fun interview. It is always great to meet filmmakers from all over the world and it was a huge thrill to meet Mr. Matsumoto especially in this setting where red carpets are a rarity in Japan most filmmakers only do formal press conferences. It was also awesome that I was able to make the great comedic legend laugh. 2014 TUSK World Premiere Interview with Kevin Smith There was a lot of things swirling around this night behind the scenes. Time was running out and it looked as though I was not going to speak with Kevin Smith. I did and said it was great that he was back to making movies and he gave me a huge bear hug which has since been written about in a dissertation and published in a book. 2015 SLUMS THE CITIES OF TOMORROW The In Light Human Rights Film Festival I was the videographer for a new film festival that was created in the anthropology department at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Later in 2015 I would interview Sir Patrick Stewart at the Green Room premiere but I went with this conversation with professor Nicolas Reeves because I really enjoyed our conversation and the documentary is becoming more and more relevant as the wealth divide increases. 2016 THE BAD BATCH TIFF Premiere with Jason Momoa This is one of my most talked about interviews I have done and happen before already star Jason Momoa was launched into superstardom. It also features another bear hug. Guess I am a huggable guy! 2017 BODIED TIFF World Premiere with Dizaster This was the opening film this year and was great to research and learn more about the underground hip-hop battle scene. I had no idea that Toronto had such a vibrant scene. The film was very provacative and in your face so was battle rapper Dizaster. It was also another interview that ended in a hug! 2018 THE WIND TIFF World Premiere It is great to go into a movie not knowing anything about it. From an interview and research stand point though it makes an interview quite difficult. I really enjoyed these interviews at THE WIND Premiere with director Emma Tammi, writer Teresa Sutherland and actors Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles The flow and ease of the interviews went really well and I was happy to support this film. 2019 FIRST LOVE Interview with Takashi Miike This was another year that featured some very cool interviews. The long awaited return of Richard Stanley and the few minutes with elusive Nicolas Cage, third time really was the charm this year but I went with my interview with legendary filmmaker Takashi Miike. In my film collection I probably have more films by him than any other filmmaker, in large part to how prolific he is. This would mark the second time I have interviewed Mr. Miike this time it was great that I could sit down with him for a longer interview. Interviews with a translator can always be difficult but I feel this interview flowed well. Honorable Mention SADAKO VS KAYAKO 2016 The photo on this post is from this premiere and one of my favorite photos my good friend Ian Goring has taken of me over the years. This was a really fun premiere and threw out the normal interview process out the window.
Ian Haydn Smith's new book Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know is a book well suited to the cinephile world of lists and discussions. Mr. Smith chronicles fifty filmmakers ranging form David Lynch to Ana Lily Amirpour to Abel Ferrara. I don't want to mention too many as part of the fun for me was turning the pages to see and read about the next filmmaker. The directors span over a hundred years of cinema.
"What makes a cult film, or characterizes its filmmaker as a cult figure?" Is the first line of Mr. Smith's introduction and the question is indeed the crux of the book. It is a pertinent question and the book shines as Mr. Smith gives us insights about his thought process to his answers. In this modern cinema era films are sometimes positioned and marketed as "cult" films. As the local movie theater is dominated more and more by giant blockbuster films by a handful of media companies it is also a nice reminder that in every decade filmmakers were and are operating outside of traditional systems. Directors throughout the decades are telling stories that are unique, weird, provocative, compelling, a reaction and a reflection of the generation they were created in and ultimately theirs.
As Ian Hayden Smith writes, "Rather than offering an authoritative guide through the rich history of cult filmmaking, this book aims to be another voice in the conversation about cult cinema." I surmise this book will indeed begin and renew discussions and disagreements of what is a cult film and what makes one a cult filmmaker and will definitely stir passionate conversations of the filmmakers featured within and those not included. The book will also certainly bring delight as a reader looks back at well known directors, upcoming filmmakers and forgotten auteurs.
You can by Ian's book here.
Sunday, December 8, 2019
As the old adage goes, "One should not judge a book by it's cover" that went out the window when Ian Nathan's book on Quentin Tarantino arrived at my office. The book takes it's color scheme and font from Tarantino's Kill Bill complete with the image of Japanese steel from Okinawa. As if that wasn't stylish and striking enough the book also has a slip case. These stylistic choices are fitting for a book about one of the most stylistic directors to call out "action!" working today.
"I didn't go to film school, I went to films." - Quentin Tarantino
Anyone who has ever watched an interview with Tarantino can attest to, he talks in rapid fire encyclopedic cinema references with a lot of ego and is extremely quotable. Nathan's book excels at peppering the book with quotes. The above quote is the first sentences you read in the book and are located in the contents page. There are ten quotes in the contents page for the ten sections of the book and this cannot be a happenstance structure as it has long been mythologized that Quentin will craft ten films and retire from film making.
Speaking of mythology the first section in the book entitled Video Archives gets into the talking points about the Tarantino's beginnings. Nathan asks "Why is Quentin Quentin?" he then takes us on the journey from Tarantino's earliest years in Knoxville, Tennessee and the talk of his grandfather being a bootlegger to his growing up in the neighborhood of Torrance south of Los Angeles. As well as Tarantino's first jobs at the Pussycat Theater to Video Archives. The first chapter also details some of Tarantino's many cinematic and television influences.
Another standout chapter begins with another quote "I think of them as like old girlfriends..." and chronicles Natural Born Killers, True Romance, From Dusk Till Dawn. The trio of films that were written by Quentin. This trifecta of screenplays were originally written to be his first feature length effort film (My Best Friend's Birthday not withstanding and subsequently buried in the mythology surrounding Tarantino) Killers, Romance and Dusk help to cement Tarantino's place in early 1990s film and pop culture.
Ian Nathan's book is a glossy sprint through the films and influences of Quentin Tarantino. Film being a visual language Nathan and Tarantino's words are complimented with a beautiful collection of photographs from the Kobal archives throughout the book. Myself being married to an academic something else I very much appreciated is the fact that the many Tarantino quotes are backed by four pages of sources.
With Once Upon A Time In Hollywood arriving on home video as I write this Ian Nathan's book on Quentin Tarantino is a great look back for those of us who have fond memories of discovering Reservoir Dogs on VHS and have been anticipating new Tarantino films ever since. Quentin Tarantino The Iconic Filmmaker And His Work is also a great companion piece for film lovers who have discovered the films of Tarantino in the subsequent years.
You can buy Ian Nathan's book here.