Tuesday, September 21, 2010

RIP Satoshi Kon

Anime director extraordinare Satoshi Kon died of cancer late in august, leaving a hole in the medium and much sadness in the heart of many anime fans. Why is this relevant to this blog? Well, have you seen any of this guy's stuff? He's the David Lynch of the east, watching his movies can be like injecting a syringe of pure Nightmare Fuel into your own eyeballs, or it can be like 90 minutes of undiluted "What The Fuck." My favorite moments of his movies, though, combine the two into a beautiful blend of confusing and terrifying, terrifusing, for the lack of a better word. Here be minimal spoilers, don't say I didn't warn you.

His first movie, Perfect Blue, is perhaps the finest and most violent mindfuckery I've seen since Eraserhead. It follows the ex-pop star, now actor, Mima, as she is stalked by an obsessive fan. Her debut role in the acting profession is that of a rape victim who's become delusional, believing her to be a ex-pop star turned actor playing a character in the very same situation as she herself finds herself in. Confused yet? Good, because this movie loves that, constantly making it ambiguous whether our heroine is crazy or not, or how many layers deep in crazy she is, for that matter.

This is the sort of debut work I love to see, really taking the rules and ways we watch and intepret fiction and beating us over the head with them until we don't know what's up or down, see also House of Leaves. Sure, it's challenging to watch, but well worth it for the atmosphere and sheer fucked-up brilliance of it all. This is probably the movie that is most Lynch-esque of Kon's works in that respect. Also, rape scenes in general are never pleasant, but this movie sure goes the extra mile to freak you out, trust me, you'll know when you see it.

Next, Kon makes two movies I saddly haven't seen yet, Milennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, although the latter is very high up on my to-do list, and the former is fairly high up there too. Next movie!

Kon's next work is, in fact, not a movie, but a short anime series titled Paranoia Agent Oh boy, this is one I could write a lot about. The basic plot follows various denizens of Tokyo as a plague of assaults, alledgedly done drive-by style by a young man with roller-skates and a baseball bat. Investigating the case turns difficult, as everybody's hiding something, and the paranoia grows all but omnipresent. The series is almost an anthology of sorts, with the common element being the mysterious bat-wielding assailant coming to knock the protagonist of the little tale out of their misery. It's not quite as scary as Perfect Blue, although it has it's screwed up, confusing and just plain scary bits. What it's most notable for in my book, though, is an episode that is only loosely connected to the main plot.

The episode in question is episode 8, which follows three internet buddies who meet in real life to commit suicide together. Dark isn't it? Doesn't exactly help that one of them is a young girl. With such a dark-sounding synopsis, I almost feel bad for saying this, but this episode is hilarious. You see, their initial attempts at killing themselves all fail, most of them thanks to what can only be described as eerily good luck or seriously bad timing, so they travel around, trying to find a good and painless way to end it all. The inherent irony is that they grow so close one could argue they could be better off just living together, helping each other out with their respective problems in stead of killing each other. You could say they end up doing that... sort of.

Kon's last complete work is yet another movie, Paprika. This movie is about Chiba Atsuko, a psychologist who treats patients with a machine that allows her to enter their dreams as the fiesty redhead titular character. Paprika is the feisty, flirty, extroverted ying to Chiba's reserved, professional yang. When one of the dream machines are stolen, and the thief uses the technology to invade the dreams of others with an increasingly surreal and overwhelming parade, it's up to Chiba and Paprika to stop the dream terrorist, lest the world be swallowed up in dream-induced madness.

As far as horror goes, this one isn't really scary, sure, it has it's fair share of weird and spooky moments, but it lacks the sheer horror. It is, however, quite possibly my favorite Kon film, much due to the sheer mind-bending visuals, as evident in the link above, and awesome music, done by Susumu Hirasawa, who also did the music for Paranoia Agent. If I should fault it for anything, it must be that the ending is a bit of what my friends at Tvtropes would call a Gainax Ending , when the symbolism runs absolutely batshit insane (I think,) although I guess that could be very well be justified, what with the dreamlike nature of the climax. Sure, it's still confusing, but then again, dreams usually are. Oh, and although it was foreshadowed a bit spottily compared to the mainstream equivalent, I still maintain that the resolution to the romance subplot is good, borderline awesome. It's definitely one of the things you notice more on the second view-through, though, so you might have a little surprise near the end the first time around.

Kon was only 46 years when he died from pancreatic cancer, the cancer was discovered in may, and he spent the remainder of his life in his home. Towards the very end, he wrote an open letter to his fans, friends and coworkers explaining his situation and giving his fond goodbyes. It's a heart-wrenching goodbye from one of the brightest minds of modern animation, who got taken away from the world way too soon.

Rest in Peace, Satoshi Kon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guess who's back (A Nightmare On Elm Street)

So, hi folks, I'm back from my little exile. The reason I stopped writing is pretty much that The Wolfman went all Ivan Drago on me, and I couldn't, to save my life, express just how bland and unintentionally hilarious that movie was. However, dear readers, rest assured that it was bad, really bad. Let's move on. What's a catalyst powerful enough to tear me out of my writer's block, you may ask? Well, of course, a remake of one of my favorite horror movies of all times, of course. No, not that one.

Yes, as you might have gleaned from the title, I'm tackling the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. So, the story's more or less the same, as a high school girl named Nancy must survive the onslaught of a dreambound killer. There are some changes in the story, some good, some... not so good. First of all, Freddy, pedophile murdering asshole that he is, didn't get off the hook on a technicality, the parents in question merely not wishing to put their children through a trial, instead going for the oh so popular "denial and forgetfulness" route. I can't really decide what I think of this. The whole "off on a technicality"-thing seemed a little weird when it comes to a serial pedophile like the Fredster, but on the other hand, it kind of makes the parents come off as bigger assholes than generally necessary.

Oh, and just to sugar that pill, the movie also seems to pad itself out with speculations around if Freddy was a pedophile out to kill his former victims, or a wrongly accused guy out to kill the children, whom he really cared about if one discards that whole pedophile thing , of his killers. Awesome.... yeah? (Not really) Speaking of creepyness, Jackie Earle Haley, probably known to most folk as Rorscharch from Watchmen, plays Freddy, and he does a fairly good job, although I can't help but think he's playing from kind of the wrong angle. You see, he very much plays a creepy rapist/sadist type of guy. Sure, it plays in on his character quite well, but considering he shows one of his prospective victims how he was killed, it feels like the movie wants to portray him as a vengeful revenant of sorts.

Either that, or the movie's just being a little lazy. I don't know if you remember the scene from the original where Nancy's mom tells the story of Freddy's demise? That's probably one of my scenes from the original, and it really allows both actors to show what they can do. In the remake, by comparison, it boils down to a shrill shouting match where the actors tries to out-shriek each other, and the whole exchange is more or less pointless, and the exposition is left to said flashback, smooth.

When it comes to the scares, I'm a little ambivalent. Sure, it's got atmosphere, and it's occasionally creepy. Sure, the bathroom scene is more or less intact, Freudian overtones and all, but there's one problem.... goddamn jump scares. Hoh yes, I hope you're ready for multiple scare chords and blink and you'll miss it horror. I'd go so far to say that this movie almost has the atmosphere to pull off jumpscares, but there's simply too many of them, and it gets tedious. It's also worth noting that the movie feels padded occasionally. Sure, it's decently atmospheric padding, but it's still padding.

When it comes to the real centerpiece himself, Freddy, I'm glad to announce that Clown!Freddy seems to have been thrown away with the dishwater. Haley!Freddy is occasionally darkly humorous, but almost a little too serious. Again, could be the nostalgia speaking, but I felt Englund!Freddy, at least in the first movie, struck the perfect balance between disturbing and funny, making him a villain that's funny while still being threatening.

My biggest problem though? Freddy's makeup. Now, I don't know enough about medicine to decide which of the faces that looks more realistic, but I must admit, New!Freddy doesn't really look as intimidating as old!Freddy, and their attempt to keep him in shadows until the end could have worked, hadn't it been for the fact that the shadows didn't really hide all that much, the way they were done.

In summary? A Nightmare On Elm Street wasn't all that good, can't really say that surprised me too much, it did enough right to be better than a lot of horror I've seen lately, but that doesn't really say all that much. Here's hoping Rec 2 is good.