Japanese Grue Vol. 2 – By Joshua Samford

 Hey all, last week I laid the ground work for probably one of my most important series. Granted, the level importance of my articles are on a scale of -1 through -100 on just about everyone elses scale. However, I would like to have these articles stand as something important for myself and hopefully for others as perhaps a key into a burgeoning underground that isn’t as written extensively upon as one might think. When it comes to Japanese horror cinema these days, since this new millenium, Japanese horror has become a machine that has expanded the world over. Now our favorite ghost stories of Japan have all been re-made with American actors, Korean actors, etc. The world has completely come around to the brilliance of Hideo Nakata and his Ring films along with others like The Grudge and even some of Kyoshi Kurosawa’s work. Now, with all of these films making it into even the most mainstream homes – some actually think they have seen all that Japan has to offer. Well, if you didn’t read my previous article (and you really should), I am here to point out that very few people really have. The Japanese film industry, much like the Japanese culture in itself is a very intriguing and often times bizarre place. Game shows where men carry around bricks on their genitals via a rope, eating squid and raw fish being a daily activity – god bless them, but there are things about the Japanese culture that I will never understand as an outsider. I do however understand at least the basics for their taste of the extreme. I don’t know how widely popular the films I am discussing today are within Japan, but I have to at least imagine they have a fairly wide underground fanbase for such films to continually be made on a regular basis. One can come up with all the reasons they want to, whether it be Japanese oppression or whatever it may be – but whatever it is they suffer from, I guess I must suffer from it as well, because I too am a big fan of testing the limits of human emotions and my own will in what I can bare to watch. That’s why we are the fans we are. Although I am the biggest wimp in the world when it comes to real-life trauma (turn on a Traces/Faces/Banned From TV video and I RUN for the door), when it comes to artistic grotesqueness; I will always seek out that one film that pushes things so far that even I cannot take it. As long as the human will is strong though, and our constant strain from curiosity gets the better of us – these sort of things are going to continually come into the focus of us lonely geeks. Now, with that big long rant out of the way, I’ll move on to the first focus of this month’s column. The All Night Long series.

 The All Night Long series turned out as the brainchild of a man, Katsuya Matsumura, who has apparently had a few blue mondays in his time. I’m kidding, and with such limited knowledge available in our market about such a director I can only guess what he is like personally – but his output definitely has some very consistent themes. Essentially, if you go into a Matsumura film, do not expect to walk out feeling very good about human society. Really, don’t expect to feel too good about much of anything. That isn’t a slight at the filmmaker, and for those turned off by the concept of a nihlistic and bleak outlook on humanity – well, these things happen. The world in which Matsumura often places his films are certainly extreme, often times over the top – but almost always realistic in many ways. His films are about the darkness that lurks in all human beings, and the first three entries in the All Night Long series showcase this perfectly. From the first film, which focuses on three young men who make friends after witnessing the brutal stabbing of a young woman in front of them at a railroad crossing, the director sets up a showcase for his very bleak reminder of what lies within. The three young men in the story all plan to throw a party and bring dates, however things don’t go as planned. One of the boys gets so nervous while talking to the girl he wants that he throws up on her, one tries to pay a girl but that goes poorly when she only wants to rob and ridicule him. The third and final boy actually finds himself a steady relationship, but soon has this newfound happiness torn away from him when a gang knocks him out – rapes his girlfriend and kills her. Leaving these three boys, wronged by society at large, seeking revenge and searching for their own form of justice. Justice however, when dealt in the same manner as those perpetrating the crimes – becomes nothing more than another horror into itself. The final half of the first All Night Long is a bloodbath of revenge and sadism, where trust and friendships are broken, hate, greed and gluttony take over and over the course of one night; all the evils of humanity are excersized. These films, despite what some might lead you to believe – are not extreme gore films by any stretch of the imagination. They are extremely violent, I won’t deny that, but calling them “gore” films might be a bit of a stretch. The second in the series, All Night Long: Atrocity, certainly amps up the violence in a big way and stands as possibly the best in the series – but I don’t want my readers to walk away with the wrong impression. The All Night Long series has more in common with the likes of Argento than Fulci, a lot of blood, but usually there is a lot more going on within the story than taking time to show limbs being slowly hacked off in gruesome detail. What sets these films apart from anything else you may have ever seen is the atmosphere and the simple message of urban decay in every frame of celluloid. All Night Long shows a world on the verge of collapse, and serves as a warning of what humanity can be and the beast that lies within us all. I reccomend the series so much, and although I have not seen the fourth and fifth films; I am confident they are certainly worth searching out – as the first three films are absolutely mind blowing. If you watch these films in the course of two or three days like I did when I first bought the three disc box set; they will change your way of thinking. You will believe in the horrors of humankind, without question. Matsumura has always delivered films such as Schoolgirl in Cement and Kirei?, the first film dealing with a subject just as the title infers: A schoolgirl who is brutally murdered and encased in cement. Based on a true crime that recieved a lot of talk within Japan, it shows the torture and rape of the girl in brutal fashion and the events that follow thereafter. If nothing else, Matsumura is a filmmaker who remains consistent – and with films such as his All Night Long series; he is a filmmaker with a lot to say; and although the subjects are often the same, he continues to make his statements in a very convincing and original way.

 Another figurehead and pioneer within the Japanese film community, and a much larger celebrity and inventor, is Shinya Tsukamoto. Although Tsukamoto has never been a “gore” film director or even remotely exploitive within his films, he is certainly a director who uses violence and the violent nature of man in a very specific way in his films. Without the work of Tsukamoto during the early nineties, I feel certain that many of our favorite directors from abroad would at the very least be missing key components in their style of filmmaking. His radical form of cinema is unlike any other filmmaker on the planet, and with his films such as Tetsuo: The Iron Man, he created a subgenre entirely by himself. Influenced by industrial music and a love for urban gothic filmmaking, Tsukamoto combined a visual grittyness that resembles films such as Eraserhead and threw it into a chaotic whirlwind of industrial music, ambient sound, non-linear storytelling and stop motion animation. A film that puts the human form at odds with the physical world around it, showing man’s fear of change and the claustrophobia that comes from urban dwelling amidst the leaky pipes, eary creaking and metallic world that surrounds Japan. Black blood is splattered in all corners, and although the film is not quite “gory” by conventional means, it most certainly is bloody and extremely disturbing. An experiment in technological meltdown, Tetsuo is certainly Tsukamoto’s calling card but has since then racked up a large library of equally insane and unconventional films to add to his credit. No matter what the plot may be, no matter what it calls for – if you go into a film to see a Shinya Tsukamoto film; you are guaranteed to at least see things you’ve never saw. Whether that be a planet on flames and rotting dogs in the streets, or a man with a giant drill for a penis that turns his wife on – Tsukamoto can not go without mention in any serious discussion of the more chaotic side of Japanese cinema. Tsukamoto, being a brilliant director, has since breached off into acting as well. Even making appearances in the works of Takashi Miike, another current Japanese director who certainly needs to be mentioned. If only for his often gory and insane films such as Ichi the Killer, Fudoh: The New Generation and Dead or Alive. His films are unconventional to the hilt and almost always full of chaotic violence or torture that seems to come from out of nowhere. If you want to more about this director, you can search Rogue Cinema for my profile of the bombastic auteur from a good while back. He isn’t just a shockmaster, but when he does try to shock – he is always succesful.

So that brings an end to this month’s entry into this series of mine. Check back next month for my last entry where I hope to cover more on the Japanese underground and films like Red Room and Psycho: The Snuff Reels and the insane world of faux-snuff-porn currently becoming a big factor.