Before the night descended into a geek game show fueled by alcohol, testostorone, and horror movie trivia (see "Fantastic Feud"), and long before the night splintered still further into exuberant karaoke featuring filmmakers, programmers, and divas of every sort ("Tainted Love"? "I'm Too Sexy"? "Okie From Muskogee"? "Werewolves of London"? "Addicted to Love"? "Bohemian Rhapsody"?), Fantastic Fest presented a day of richly diverse cinema.
A Colt is My Passport, the kick-off to the three-film Nikkatsu Action series, was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. It was so good that about halfway through I was thinking how much I wanted to see it again.
Made in 1967, a few months before Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill, which also starred Jo Shisido, Takashi Nomura's film features a hitman (Shisido) who has trouble making his escape after carrying out his latest job. (The assassination scene itself, in which Shisido demonstrates cold hearted efficiency with a long-range rifle, is chillingly silent.) He holes up with his partner in a motel by the sea, waiting for a chance to ship out of the country, but much more trouble -- and a spectacular climax set in a lonely landscape -- lies ahead. Much more should be written about this off-kilter masterpiece.
Mark Schilling, film critic for The Japan Times and author of the great new book No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema (published by the wonderful FAB Press), introduced the film. Marc Walkow of Outcast Cinema typed up the subtitles and made sure they appeared at just the right moment (via his laptop computer) on the improvised area below the screen.
What a great start to the series, and two more to go! Read on after the jump for comments on two recommended Asian comedies.
Both Logboy and Aardvark have already submitted fine reviews of Aachi and Ssipak (see Related Links). What I can add is that the first half of the movie made me laugher harder than I have in a very long time -- to the point of tears. Just thinking about the character design of the blue-skinned, perpetually toothy Diaper Gang brings a smile to my face as I type this.
Happily infantile, Aachi and Ssipak proudly brings the fine art of Korean animation to a new low: defecation. Defecation is its theme, defecation is the basis of most of its humor, defecation provides all of the drama, such as it in a movie that refuses to take itself seriously. (Children would love this movie, though more conservative parents might suffer instant embolisms.) But what else would you expect when defecation means life or death?
Beyond the craziness, the climactic action sequence rivals any action scene ever put on screen by Pixar. It's thrilling, dazzling, and very funny to boot.
In the complete opposite direction visually, The Rug Cop earns its laughs by presenting its premise entirely deadpan. Zura is a middle-aged cop with a special crime-fighting ability: his hairpiece. Yup, he can throw his toupee like the Master of the Flying Guillotine.
Zura is transferred to a new precint where he is not alone in having a unique ability. To quote Paul Corupe's description, which appears on the Fantastic Fest web site, Zura's new colleagues include: "Tonko, the best tea server in Japan, champion eater Fatty, speedy weightlifter Shorty, ladies' man Gigolo, joke-cracking Gagster, and Big Willie, who lives up to his name when sexually aroused, brandishing a light saber-like phallus that comes in handy during many dicey situations."
I haven't seen director Minoru Kawasaki's previous films (The Calamari Wrestler, Executive Koala), but The Rug Cop aptly demonstrates his ability to drop characters with absurd abilities straight into the middle of a police procedural and stretch things just a little to wrest a surprising number of laughs ouf of each situation. The look of the film is lo-fi, presented in very dull and ordinary colors.
We can plainly see that Zura and his colleagues simply wish to live an ordinary life and bring criminals to justice. Their stunningly routine lives endear them to us and make us wish for good things to happen to them. The laughs keep coming throughout every episode of their crime story.
The Rug Cop is a low-key charmer. I can't wait to catch up with Minoru Kawasaki's other films.