Fans all over the US are crazy about that “Death Note” thing. But how do we know how popular Death Note really is? Personally, I think that the proof that Death Note has finally hit the big time is because a local news station is reporting that students are getting in trouble for bringing the Death Note notebooks to school. All we need now is for Oprah to pick this story up, and superstardom, here we come! If we’re really lucky, in a couple of years, we’ll get an Americanized remake released in theaters that I will also not go to. (Unless it’s directed by Rob Zombie, cause that could be kinda cool.)
Sometimes, insomnia has it’s advantages. Flipping through the channels at 1 AM, sorting through late night infomercials, and hitting gold in, of all places, the AZN channel. That’s where I first saw “Tachiguishi-Retsuden”.
The visual style can’t help but catch the eye. The presentation is semi-serious, with everything rendered in somber sepia tone and stark black backgrounds. Images become digitally distorted, expanding and contracting in discomforting ways to the eye. People are presented in papercraft forms that would fit comfortably on South Park if they weren’t so lovingly surreal.
The stern narrator, surely the Walter Cronkite of Japan in this strange universe, goes on about the long storied history of the tachiguishi or “fast food grifter”, men with the uncanny ability to eat at food stalls and restaurants and not pay their checks. They might wear rings in their noses, they bring fast food franchises to their knees, and they definitely have a posse.
This is all presented completely serious.
The morning after, I needed to know it wasn’t all a dream. Some quick Googling reveals the hand of Mamoru Oshii at the helm, which isn’t surprising. Most people would remember his early work on “Ghost in the Shell” and “Patlabor” but he also has a fair amount of experimental work to his name like the small cult hit “Angel’s Egg” and the live-action “Avalon”.
Oshii calls it “a serious comedy” which sums it up neatly. It’s a surreal mockumentary that held my rapt attention at 2 AM when I really should’ve been sleeping. To find it on TV is like a diamond in the rough, the rest of you are better off renting it.
Also to note, apparently a sequel is in the works. Shin-Onna Tachiguishi-Retsuden which might be translated to “The New Women of Fast Food Grifting”. The site has a lady in a blood red hijab and jack squat in content. And yet, I don’t think I could be more excited.
Tachiguishi-Retsuden on Wikipedia.
Mamoru Oshii on IMDB.
Let me drop in here for a little bit and give the next review in my series “Only the Best Asian Cinema Bought For the Discerning Shopper of Wal-Mart”: another action title, called “Death Trance”. I love a rich, compelling arthouse flick as much as anyone else, but sometimes the brain is dead after a long, hard day of bitshuffling. And when the brain is dead it wants only two things: booze and women. Unfortunately, woman is not always on hand, in which case the brain will settle for people beating the crap out of each other.
Forget about the plot of Death Trance, it’s really just an excuse for people to beat the crap out of each other.
Okay, a little more detail: Death Trance is directed by Yuji Shimomura, notoriously the action director of Versus, and just as notoriously the director for the video game Devil May Cry 3, and stars the borderline-crazy Tak Sakaguchi (also of Versus – and man, finding out that he’s in the Cromartie High School movie just makes me want to see it more). The slight nod to a plot is that a coffin, which supposedly grants the wishes of whoever brings it to the Cursed Forest ™, is stolen from the monestary which has been guarding it all these years. Of course, the monks know that actually sealed inside the coffin is a demon who could destroy the world.
The rest is essentially It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World set to fisticuffs. That is, it’s a vehicle for Shimomura to show off his action directing chops, especially with Sakaguchi, who enthusiastically uses a style of fighting closer to street fighting. A few different groups and loners successively fight over the coffin, with Sakaguchi generally kicking gratuitous amount of ass when he’s on camera. If you liked the darkly humorous tone of Versus, then you should like this as well, though I’d say this is more actiony than humorous.
The action sequences are inventive and enjoyable, though the second half begins to drag a bit, and watching Sakaguchi waltz around and beat up hordes of obviously inferior adversaries gets to be a bit boring after awhile. The biggest disappointment is the final battle, which sadly is an overstylized, overedited snooze fest. But when you get tired of the action, you can look at its other saving grace – its amazing sense of design. The inventiveness and attention to detail on the costuming, props, and few sets that were used, I found frankly astonishing, and I hope whoever’s responsible for it gets more work, and soon. By now, though, I’ve probably written more words than it deserves. So if you want a break, have a drink and watch Death Trance.
We wouldn’t be serving our audience right unless we noted that Viz has acquired the rights to release the live-action Death Note movies. No shocker there, as they also have the license for the TV series. It remains to be seen how Viz will mess this one up – they were originally going to release the TV shows within weeks of their first airing in Japan, but instead have sat on it for so long that it feels like almost time for another show to pull into the Hype Station. My feelings on the movies are well-documented, but I might catch the second one, just to see the ending. Whether I plan to spend any money on it is a different question altogether.
Hot on the heels of the success of the new Transformers movie, we’re already seeing the first copycats popping up. Because nothing says “success” like imitating a special-effects-laden movie that brought in the big bucks, Warner Bros. has announced that they have the rights to make a live-action Robotech movie.
The first question is what the subject of the movie will actually be. Robotech is notoriously the American adaptation of three different Japanese anime titles, squished into one continuing storyline. My guess is that it will draw most heavily on the first title, otherwise known as Macross. The second question is whether Tobey Maguire, named as the executive producer, will actually take one of the roles, making me want to sock his smug little face once more. (Hopefully not, as those helmets are hard, and they hurt.)
The main difference I see between adapting Transformers and Robotech is that while Transformers was really little more than a kiddie cartoon made to sell toys (which didn’t stop me from loving it), leaving lots of room for interpretation on the big screen, Macross was very much the opposite. Heavily plotted, with rich characters (especially for the time), Macross was a seminal anime series, and was by far the most complicated and adult animated show on daytime TV. However, knowing Hollywood productions, the new live-action movie will most likely be a crazy romp around the solar system, with flashy fighter planes killing Zentradi left and right, eh?
Of course, maybe I’m just being overly cynical. Or maybe the rush is already starting. Voltron has already been licensed for a live-action remake, and I expect to see these shows snapped up in short order:
- The GoBots
- Mysterious Cities of Gold
- My Little Pony
- The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin
Ah, who cares. I’m going to go off and watch Macross: Do You Remember Love for awhile. And maybe slap me some Minmei.
The first reviews of Sukiyaki Western: Django are coming out. Oh man, do I so want to see this movie. I’m enjoying the revival of the western, but I’ll leave the subject to people more familiar with the subject to talk about. At least until I see 3:10 to Yuma.