Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (1973)

Posted in movies on July 17th, 2011

"Pinky Violence" is the name of a very specific type of exploitation film. It refers to films that are Japanese, made between 1968 and 1974, feature female leads, and have tons of nudity and violence. If that description sounds intruiging, keep reading. If it doesn't, don't.

There's no use trying to intellectualize the merits of the genre. People watch it to ogle naked Japanese girls strewn with blood. There's a charming visual style, and the influence of the American hippie movement is often clear; there are some genuinely clever moments of scripting; there are some resonant themes and characters; but really, people just watch these movies to ogle.

Of all the Pinky Violence films, and I've seen over twenty, CW:KM is my favorite. It's probably not the "best" — I'd give that title to Lady Snowblood, which is probably the film you should start with if you're curious about the genre. But I like this one for its cast, its structure, and its odd pacing and symmetry. Few films of the genre even cared about that stuff. More were concerned with the dilemma, "How can we possibly pad out our script enough to make this feature-length?" So most of the films are boring slog-fests. A lot of them are really cool though. Some are even legitimately artful.

One word of caution: although these films do feature female protagonists who in the end come out on top... they're not exactly feminist. They're about catering to the deepest male desires, and specifically, those of 1970s Japan — a time and place with attitudes about women likely to be different from your own. If you watch one of these films, you will probably see the lead character being tortured, humiliated, and helpless in at least one scene. It's something I personally grimace through for the sake of the rest of the movie, but I know that for some viewers those scenes would be dealbreakers. Proceed with it in mind.

How to get it

As far as mainsream releases go, this out-of-print boxset is your only option. Whether it's worth the money or not is up to you, but as an owner of the set myself, I can vouch for its quality. All four movies are pretty cool, and the inserts are great. The commentary tracks are very informed and enjoyable.

The one disappointing part of the set is the included audio CD of Reiko Ike songs. The entire running length of the album has her moaning in the background, an effect that quickly becomes much more irritating than erotic. Still, you can easily ignore the CD while enjoying the rest of the contents. I do.

If you just want to watch an individual movie from the collection, Netflix has ’em all.

Other P.V. films worth watching

Perhaps my extensive viewing can save you some time. Here are the ones I enjoyed, with the ones I didn't being omitted. I'll link to the CinemaGeddon pages for each one, which for this genre will be much more informative than the IMDb pages. At the very least, you gotta scroll through their screen captures for each film.

  • Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (1970): One of the earlier PV films, and arguably the first to really present the genre staples in a way that was both solidified and enjoyable.

  • Stray Cat Rock: Female Boss (1970): My favorite of the five Stray Cat Rock films, although #3 is BY FAR the most popular. Here's the deal: watch #1 if you want to see a charming interaction between the girls in the gang. Do not watch #2 under any, any, any circumstances. #3 is worth seeing, if only for Meiko Kaji's placement in the lead role. It's also the only film in the series easily locatable in the United States. #s 4 and 5 are okay.
  • Wandering Ginza Butterfly (1971): More Meiko Kaji! She's great, as always, but the surprise in the film is that the male lead, played by Tsunehiko Watase, is also really charismatic. It might be the only P.V. movie I can even say that about (except for this film's sequel, of course, which has the same cast).
  • Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972): The five Scorpion movies are some of the more famous ones in the P.V. genre. They're all women-in-prison films, but with startlingly good photography (it's where the above "these movies can be artful" clip came from). The incomparable and talented Meiko Kaji is the star of all five. Great soundtracks, too. One of the songs even appeared in Kill Bill.
  • Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973): One of the movies in the P.V. collection I linked to above. It's got high school girls in high school uniforms hacking each other up. End of review?
  • Sex & Fury (1973): It opens with a completely naked Reiko Ike slashing up a bunch of dudes with a sword. It later has Christina Lindberg costarring. End... of... review.
  • Lady Snowblood (1973): As said, this is the masterpiece of the genre. It's the one I'd feel most comfortable showing to a mixed audience. Allegedly an influence on Kill Bill. Unfortunately, its sequel wasn't nearly as good.
  • Girl Boss Revenge (1973): One of the many girl gang films, and one of the better ones.
  • Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (1974): Another contender for the masterpiece of the genre, although it's probably a bit too sexist for me to recommend it wholeheartedly. Still, when this film works, it really works. The opening sequence alone, where you see why the handcuffs themselves share top billing with the main character, is worth the price of admission. Plus, it's the film that showcases Miki Sugimoto's abilities most prominently. In too many other of her films, she's just "one of girls in the gang." Here, she is the main character, and the only main character.

So to summarize everything: start with Lady Snowblood. If you liked that, try Criminal Woman or the first Female Prisoner #701 movie. Then you can try Zero Woman, or any of the films in the P.V. box set. Then you can move to the other ones in my bulleted list.

Earwig is ANGRY! (2002)

Posted in video games on July 14th, 2011

It's a shame this game isn't longer, because it's hilarious. The kind of hilarious that signals it came from a mind that's capable of a lot more than what you see in this one game. This one very short game.

It's a point-and-click adventure game, a love-it-or-hate-it type of genre. You probably already know which camp you fall into.

What it's about: You're a mental patient named Earwig, the guy in the green dinosaur costume above. Your goal is to embrace your inner sadist and go wherever your id leads you. Some very morbidly funny things happen along the way.

The puzzle solving is light, but who cares? This game is about the sharp humor and the dark tone. And I should point out, it has a phenomenal soundtrack as well. Don't be bothered by the game's extreme shortness — what's present is absolutely golden.

How to get it

It's freeeee! Just download it here, if you can find the semi-buried "download now" link on that page. Trust me, it's there.

Also by Shawn Guzzo

I emailed him awhile ago and he mentioned being in the industry professionally now and working to create console games, but that's as much detail as I got. He made no other indie titles that I'm aware of. So: if you own a console, buy some games for it! You might randomly be supporting this guy.

The gore trilogy (1990–1994)

Posted in movies on July 10th, 2011

"With this girl," reads the tagline for Gore Whore, "there's no such thing as safe sex!"

That's because after she has sex with you, or sometimes while she is having sex with you, she kills you, which is very unsafe. And that's the plot of the third film in the gore trilogy, in addition to some stuff about resurrection and dismemberment and come on did you read the tagline just watch this movie already.

When I first had the idea for Underground Brilliance, I made a list of obscure movies I wanted to recommend, and the gore trilogy was very near the top of the list. It's just a perfect low budget campy thrill ride. There's no continuity between the films, but they're considered a trilogy because (1) they're spiritual successors and (2) all three have the word "gore" in the title. Here's the run-down:

  • Gorgasm (1990): Gallagher's first movie, and it's actually not so great. I would not watch it until after seeing the other two, and maybe not even then. Only for dedicated fans.

  • Gorotica (1993): Now this movie is great. Anybody with a passing interest of low budget campy gore should watch this. Enough necrophilia and guts and nudity and mutilation and cornily delivered lines to satisfy anybody. Really charming actors. And a really punchy script. It took me until the third viewing to realize that, although it has the sensibilities of a shlock-fest, it has the plot arc of a screwball comedy.
  • Gore Whore (1994): Another great one. Probably better than Gorotica, but I wouldn't want to live without either. I already commented on it above, but I didn't mention the amazing soundtrack or the quotable dialogue yet. Like, in this one scene, the dude pulls out a condom: "You know, for protection." She looks down at him, all tough-like, and says "I don't think it's... gonna work."

    !!!!!

So the series is pretty great, and I recommend it highly. Very highly.

How to get it

This is the tough part.

It was never released on DVD, and the VHS print was very small. I got mine from eBay almost ten years ago, for pretty cheap, but nowadays, it's hard to even find them listed. Search around, but don't get your hopes up.

Bootlegs are illegal. And torrents are certainly illegal.

Of course, even if you did find a VHS somewhere, the only person making money would be the collector who sold it to you, not Hugh Gallagher or anybody affiliated with the film, since he hasn't been selling these for a long time. Still, I cannot condone breaking the law.

Also by Hugh Gallagher

The only other film he directed was a title called Exploding Angel (1995), but, although it has its own IMDb page, it was never actually released to the public or even finished. According to an email Gallagher himself sent me, most of the footage they shot was used for a trailer, which used to be on youtube, but now even that is gone.

He also created Draculina, a magazine about horror films. I bought a handful of back issues a while ago, and it's pretty good. Poke around the website for a while and see what you see.

Puni Puni Poemy (2001)

Posted in anime on July 7th, 2011

Tthe last two anime I reviewed, Perfect Blue and Ninja Scroll, are great to show to non-anime fans as a way of getting them into anime. Puni Puni Poemy definitely is not. I don't really think anybody could enjoy or even understand PPP who isn't already a fan of anime. There are not only a ton of references to specific anime (for instance, the Stands in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure) but, more importantly, references to genre conventions that you can't really get unless you've seen them over and over in a variety of series.

So the series isn't for everyone. But the people who can understand it might find something to truly love. PPP remains one of my personal favorite anime. It comes down to the pacing and the sense of humor. The show is so wildly energetic and absurd as to cause amazement. Excel Saga, a series made earlier by the same team, had many moments of such brilliance, although the series as a whole tended to sag. PPP maintains that air throughout its entire run. Nonstop. The main character has a downright infectious excitement about her. Every supporting character is hilarious as well. (Most people would say their favorite is Nabeshin — the red suit wearing afro styled caricature of the show's irl director. He's great, but I'm partial to Futaba, myself.)

Even the "next time on PPP" segment is funny! (I won't spoil the joke, but let's just say it doesn't actually tell you what will happen next time.)

Tragically, the show is only two episodes long. It seems that something this brilliant had to have been capable of more. But the upside is it's at least easier to recommend to people this way, as you're only asking for an investment of a single hour. (Recommending a regular anime series, you could be asking for upwards of thirteen hours!) Another upside is that the creators got a lot of material out of knowing their show was destined for imminent termination. A lot of rules are broken that a longer-running series would have to honor.

How to get it

This will be tough, as most mainstream places don't carry something this obscure. You will probably have to check a site that specializes in anime, like rightstuf.com. As of this article's posting, the DVD isn't available on Netflix. I'm not sure of the legality of anime streaming websites, so I cannot endorse them.

Also by Nabeshin

I think Excel Saga is the only noteworthy one.

As said above, it's good but flawed. The first several episodes are enjoyable. It starts to get tedious halfway through. The episode near the end where she goes to America is funny. The last two episodes are a downright abomination. But then the bonus "after the last" episode, only available on DVD, is the show at its best. Hummmmmmm.

Slaughtered Vomit Dolls (2006)

Posted in movies on July 3rd, 2011

Out of every film I'll be reviewing for the foreseeable
future, this is the one I'll be recommending the least wholeheartedly. This is not a movie for most people.

And I don't mean that in a "not everyone will find it interesting" or "not every will identify with it" kind of a way. I mean "not everyone will be physically or morally capable of sitting through this for more than five minutes." To put it plainly: if 71 minutes of gore, nudity, and (yes) actual puking does not sound actively appealing to you, do not watch this movie.

I will go further. If you want so much as an observable plot, do not watch this movie.

So who should watch this movie? Aside from gore hounds and... people who want to watch people vomiting... I'll also recommend the film to people who like unusual storytelling and a distinct photography/editing style. Yes, there is a story in here. No, it's not obvious. There's not a "rising action" or "climax" or "denouement," but there are a series of seemingly disparate scenes that each offer implications about the central character (a technique the director refers to as "constellations of meaning" — the points can be seen to join together to form a picture). As for the photography and editing... I think you'd better just watch the trailer and decide for yourself.

This is not a gimmick trailer spiffying up a boring movie. The actual movie is in that same style. For the ENTIRE length of the film, you are battered with that same rapid, nonlinear editing style. The only difference is that the full movie also has, like I said, a ton of gore (fake) and vomiting (real).

If you were intruiged by the trailer, you could give the film a try. But even if you liked literally everything else I've recommended, you are not at all guaranteed or even expected to enjoy this one.

A final note — if you have the DVD itself, you have to have to have to listen to the bonus feature on it in which the director describes the relationship he had with his sister. It is without question one of the most powerful and haunting stories I've ever heard. Anywhere.

How to get it

I was deeply surprised to see that Netflix carried this DVD (they didn't used to). For a while the director's own website was the only way to get a copy. But now it's sold out on there.... Amazon also carries it these days.

Also by Lucifer Valentine

He made two followups (completing what he accurately calls the "vomitgore trilogy"). Curiously, neither is listed on IMDb.

  • ReGOREgitated Sacrifice (2007): In many ways, more of the same. It goes a little further, explicit-wise, as much as you wouldn't have guessed it to be possible. If you for some reason liked SVD, you should see this as well. Same star (the versatile Ameara LaVey) but with different costars.

  • Slow Torture Puke Chamber (2010): Aaaaand more explicit still. LaVey is still in the film, but not in the lead role this time. Fortunately, the new lead is a likable one. Maintains the series' trademark visual style. The first in the series is my favorite of the three, but I don't think there's a consensus on that opinion.

Ninja Scroll (1993)

Posted in anime on June 30th, 2011

Ask any anime fan how they got into the genre. There's a very good chance they'll say Ninja Scroll. (Especially if they're over 20, but that's of course not a requirement.)

Like Perfect Blue, which I reviewed last week, Ninja Scroll just has that appeal to people who aren't already into anime. The two films have little else in common, though. There's not a ton to say about the intellectual reaches of Ninja Scroll. It simply has the best action sequences of like any movie ever. (And I normally am not impressed with action movies.)

When you watch Ninja Scroll, you're in this constant state of bugging out. "This is the greatest scene!" Then ten minutes pass — "No, this is the greatest scene!" And so on throughout the whole movie. Every part of it is so brilliantly composed.

What Ninja Scroll specializes in are two things: timing and reversal of expecations. Every nuance is so expertly coreographed. The film is in a constant state of going further than you would have thought possible. What you assume to be true is repeatedly pulled out from under you, often in rapid succession. (Not in a plot twist-y kind of a way, in a gut-wrenching excitement kind of a way.)

It's a brutally engrossing film. Watch it, and don't miss so much as a frame.

How to get it

It's one of the more popular movies I'll be covering. Most dvd stores should have it. Certainly if they're big enough to have an anime (or possibly "animated") section.

Also by Yoshiaki Kawajiri

To save you some reading time, Ninja Scroll is his masterpiece. His other films range from decent to mediocre. But if you want the details:

Most Offensive Video (2003–10)

Posted in internet on June 26th, 2011

Here's what M.O.V. is: cartoon characters (usually
Peanuts) redubbed to be vulgar. That's pretty much it. But as common and unimpressive as that type of reedit usually is, Most Offensive Video really, really gets it right. I recommend them highly.

The jokes are very frequent — so much so that it can even be hard to catch them all. And they're so clever and out-of-left-field. They are the product of a very creative mind. (Also, these videos will expand your vocabulary, guaranteed.)

Rambling further seems pointless when you could be spending your time actually watching the videos. Here's my favorite of theirs (you have to at least hear the speech he gives at the table). I've also included the link to their website below.

VERY, VERY NSFW.

ALSO, DO NOT WATCH IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY THINGS.

How to get it

Bam! On their website!

Also by Most Offensive Video

I... don't know? I emailed them a month ago and they never got back to me.

Perfect Blue (1998)

Posted in anime on June 23rd, 2011

It's one thing to say that animation isn't just for kids, but how do you prove it? What do you actually show to your curmudgeonly parent or professor to change their minds?

Perfect Blue. The answer is Perfect Blue.

This is a film so deep, so compelling, so artfully told that it should convince anybody of the medium's potential. This is about as adult as an anime can get — and I mean that not in terms of explicitness, but in terms of the adultness of its ideas and methods.

It's not to say that only adults can enjoy this. Quite the contrary; I believe teenagers can sit in front of this too. I just mean to say that, when they do, they will feel as if their intelligence as a viewer is being respected, and they are not being pandered to or talked down to.

I still haven't said what the film actually is. In short, it's about psychological destruction. Mima is a pop idol with severe doubts about her world as well as her mind. And the farther along the film goes, the more complex and layered the storytelling gets. We begin to question the things that made us question the other things... and from several angles at once. To say anything further would be to rob you of the numerous, complex, and often subtle turns this film has. Basically you should just watch this. It's one of the few movies that actually expands what a genre is capable of.

How to get it

Most online sources. I think even Best Buy has it?

Also by Sotoshi Kon

He only made a few films before dying last year at 47, but they're basically all masterpieces.

  • Millennium Actress (2001): I don't think this is necessarily his "best" film, but it is by far my personal favorite. It has struck a stronger emotional chord with me than almost anything else I've ever seen. Deeply deeply resonating, and it's also got more of Kon's brilliant storytelling.

  • Tokyo Godfathers (2003): More mainstream and more comedic than his other movies. Still very cleverly put together. Worth seeing.
  • Paranoia Agent (2004): You know, I still haven't seen this one. I've heard good things about it though? It's the one tv series he created in his life.
  • Paprika (2006): This is his most famous and most celebrated film. It's the one that gets taught in film classes the most often. A cornerstone of anime.

Super Crate Box (2010)

Posted in video games on June 19th, 2011

Three screens. Three enemies. Twelve guns. More gameplay than you would ever think possible.

Here's how it works. Enemies drop from the top of the screen. When they reach the bottom, they come back out through the top, angrier and faster. You kill them while collecting crates. But that's not what makes the game so great. The brilliant part is this:

Collecting crates is simultaneously your score and your weapon randomizer. Most games of this sort, and there are a ton, make killing enemies your score and the crates your weapon randomizer. So the strategy with those games is simple: get the best gun and then plow through the enemies while ignoring the crates. But you can't do that in Super Crate Box. If you get the best gun, and you plow through the enemies all you want, but you aren't actually accomplishing anything if you don't grab those crates and change your weapons, potentially to weaker ones. It adds an insane amount of tension and strategical complexity.

You're forced to master things other games would let you skip.

And then there's the all-important question: when is the right time to get the next box? You could spend weeks studying the game and still not quite know the answer to that question. How much of the room should you clear with your current gun before feeling safe to risk switching? The new gun might be better at clearing out the room... but it also might be a whole lot worse. And yet, if you don't get it eventually, the game doesn't acknowledge that you've made any progress at all!

The controls are as precise and simple as they come. But each of the twelve guns brings its own nuances to calculate. How fast, how strong, what trajectory? Thirty hours into the game, you will still be discovering new stratgies. Fire the bazooka into the wall, because it's easier to hit the floating skull with the blast radius than the missile itself. Turn on the laser beam before picking up a crate, and you can fire its delayed blast while simultaneously using your new gun. Where are the best places on each map to plant your mines?

Another brilliant aspect of the game is the constant difficulty. Most games of this type do it ramp up the difficulty every X number of points. Enemies get faster and take more damage. The problem with that design philosophy is that it tends to create a wall: you master the mechanics until the game becomes so hard that a certain level is simply unbeatable. You end up feeling as if you've "finished" the game, that you've done everything there possibly is to do with it and gotten as far as a human can ever go. With Super Crate Box, the only wall is the limit of your abilities. You try to get a higher and higher score, checking your progress against the online leaderboards. You play over and over again, increasing your skills and how many crates you're able to collect, how many board scenarios you're able to deal with. Every time you die, you are aware that the death was a fair and preventable one. You vow to do better the next time.

This type of gameplay doesn't appeal to everyone, I'm well aware. But if the idea of mastering a precise set of rules intrigues you, this game is about as good as it gets. It gets more mileage out of its minimalist design than any game I've seen.

How to get it

Can you believe it's free to download? Here's a link to the webpage.

Also by Vlambeer

So far, only one other game, Radical Fishing. And, ehhhh. But you can have a look at the trailer and see what you think. I hope, no, I expect, big things from these guys in the future.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)

Posted in movies on June 16th, 2011

This movie is to campy martial arts films what Enter The Dragon is to serious ones: the best.

Every character is great. The action is over the top and ridiculous. The fights are enhanced by various physics-bending powers, whether it's the limb-stretching yoga practitioner* or the flying guillotine itself.

And for all of the film's ridiculousness... the actors are actually really talented martial artists. The protagonist, "the one-armed boxer," has 81 credits listed on IMDb. Their moves combined with the "heightened reality" combined with the gritty music and photography makes for an amazing viewing. There's even some clever storytelling. What seems to be an extended impressive-for-its-own-sake martial arts tournament ends up becoming expository.

Five stars out of five.

___
* Ever wonder where the character design for Dhalsim came from?

How to get it

Netflix or online stores. You're unlikely to find this in an irl store.

Also by Yu Wang

As an actor, 80 other movies. As a director, 11 other movies. I'll agree with Jackie Chan on the matter of Yu Wang: he was at his best when playing the one-armed character. When he used both arms, audiences didn't seem to care as much.