Rising Suns #03: I AM A HERO (2016) [アイアムアヒーロー]

One-sheet of the I AM A HERO movie based on Hanazawa Kengo’s 2009 manga.

What was the best zombie series of the last 15 years? No, it wasn’t the fucking Wanking Dead. Anyone who knows anything about comics knows it’s hot (cake) garbage but the power of marketing, merch and a duff TV show led to unfortunate things. Like a virus, it spread and infected people into thinking it was more sophisticated than it actually is-was. It’s an unplotted pile of shit that’s thankfully ended and been buried, despite continuing to spray AMC and smartphones with piping-hot liquid excrement. If it had been a carefully crafted series with an endgoal in sight, I would look at it more kindly in hindsight. When it was a mere comic series, the first 20-30 issues were seen as a revelation for being brave enough to print in black and white, the brash pronouncement it would never end, and the twists that now seem tired like a stunned horse. As a persistent stench upon popular culture, it opened the doors to the comic dross that is now inescapable on streaming services that I don’t have the interest in wasting my time on when there are real books waiting to be read. The past is a treasure trove if you’re willing to dig deep enough to find the strands, not the Xeroxed copies of brief successes and excesses.

I AM A HERO is the antithesis to the shite yank Zombie fad of the 00s-?? and was wonderfully tied up in 22 volumes by Shogakukan and my much missed friends and colleagues at Dark Horse Comics, who finished the English translation and publication in 2019.

Just before a real pandemic forced its way into the world.

When the series reached its conclusion in Japan, I drove through long, dark, winding roads at 4am to buy a copy of BIG SPIRITS to devour the final chapter and its huge colour double-page spread of its poignant conclusion. It was, and still is a monumental piece of storytelling and cemented in my mind that mangaka Hanazawa Kengo had finally realised his ambition to tell a GREAT horror story for adults which was concise, violent, obscene, outrageous and tender all at the same time. TWD could never achieve that due to its inexcusable overwriting, 200 word monologues, the same narrative voice for all the characters (that being the grossly obese Robert Kirkman who I saw sweating and panting heavily at NYCC 2012)… need I go on? No. Let’s not.

In fact, I feel it’s insulting to Mr. Hanazawa’s talent to even compare his work with anothers as it stands tall as a work of art, rather than a media monolith that leaves most people cold.

I AM A HERO span out into four volumes of additional stories by new and major Japanese talents like Ito Junji, and a live-action movie in 2016, supported by a brief late-night mini series on TV that acts as a prelude to the movie (but to be honest, all good stories start small and we don’t need to know the origins of literally fucking everything; this is my major criticism of the dire Disney+ Star Wars spin-offs).

Now, let’s bite into the juicy meat of the brain. The movie. I’m a huge fan of Oku Hiroya’s GANTZ series which came out around 2008/9 in English translation, but the live action movies were failures in terms of narrative but not casting and design. The movies share the same director as IAAH, I only recently found out. Many manga gets optioned and turned into movies before the series is completed so the creators are leaving their work in the hands of studio writers with no idea how to turn in a satisfactory conclusion. The second GANTZ film was based on aspects of the manga but sadly unsatisfying (I do however highly recommend the GANTZ: O movie, which is the closest you will get to a truly satisfying fusion of manga and movie).

The same rationale can be directed at the I AM A HERO movie, however there are so many things RIGHT about it, I can forgive truncating 22 books totalling thousands of pages into two-hours. The cast is spot on, the costumes exact, the scenes in the first 30 minutes are ripped from the pages of the manga itself as if they were storyboards. Suzuki Hideo is a 35 year old manga artist who had won a newcomer award in his twenties but never managed to capitalise on this initial spurt of success. He becomes an assistant to another mangaka who is churning out a series he’s not interested in, nor does he raise his voice to question why he’s even doing what he’s doing (this doesn’t do you any favours in making real comics or books by the way, because you always get shot down by people with no interest in the medium who think they know better than you). The work relationship breaks down when a spate of attacks across Tokyo turn out to be (possibly?) a zombie/virus/mutation that causes people to attack and infect each other. Yes, sounds familiar. So what makes it fresh? The POV of the protagonist, without doubt. Instead of going gungho with his shotgun (gun use is not legal in Japan, except for hunting or sport in which case you thankfully need a license, unlike some countries where you can shoot up schools), he is constantly at odds with himself about using the weapon, the ramnifications of violence and his own destroyed confidence.

Later, he meets high-school student Hiromi, who has been infected partially and exists in a semi-infected state that comes into play at various points in the manga series. While the movie doesn’t quite expand on her role like the manga, she still provides a welcome counter-point to the on-screen excessive gore. The movie covers the bulk of the earlier volumes, but doesn’t make it to the final volume as it had yet to be published. However, what you do get is a concise, action-packed and faithful live-action event that deserves more than a single viewing.

Better Than Night, Dawn, and Day: Burial Ground – The Best Z-Flick Ever Made

Back in 2014, I made a rather egregious post about how The Nights of Terror (or Burial Ground as it’s more popularly known to idiots in the West) was a bloody awful film and should be watched by nobody with eyes nor ears.

Burial Ground AKA The Nights of Terror trailer

May I retract that, put the whole salad of words into a baguette smothered with mustard and mayonaise, and consume those words without breath. I have realised the error of my ways.

Burial Ground is the work of an auteur. A genius. A man of staggering directorial vision that us mere mortals can’t comprehend what he was even attempting to make. That is, the best horror film ever committed to celluloid.

But it’s even better if you watch it in VHS quality. Not 1080i or 4K restoration. You’d be mentally unhinged or a SJW itching to post complaints to Twatter to even request that. No, you want this film rougher than a foxes arsehole after an evening’s yiffing, and lo-and-behold, some lovely shit on YT has provided it:

A low-grade copy of the classic Andrea Bianachi film “The Nights of Terror”

There is literally nothing to adore about this film. The cast, including a fully grown man who plays the daughter of an actress who previously appeared as a nun for a nymphomaniac reincarnation of the devil; a man with a moustache so titilating that even the manliest hetereosexualist on the planet would turn his head; plus some other D-listers who probably appeared in the Italian equivalent of Emmerdale Farm (Is that still a thing?). At the start of this Betamax classic, unfairly overlooked by the Oscars due to racism in 1980 (probably, in my opinion, despite it being only available in beautifully out of sync dubbed version), a wise bearded archaeologist heads down into some crypts or something to see his friends. But his friends have decided they’re a bit sick of being visited by Peter Jackson and so decide to kill him. Not very nice really.

Cut to: a car driving down the road to a beautiful manson. Jazz drones and trees. A cloudy, unambitious sky. The various friends and family members are met by the professor’s servants and then immediately run to their rooms to get their jugs out and have it off. Never have you seen intimacy juxtaposed with a full-to-the-brim ashtray about to tumble over the body of two lovers, both overly blessed with body hair. Michael, a boy with big eyes and a disturbing incestuous interest in his mother decides to pop his head round the door of her room for no apparent reason, only to catch her and the new hubby going at it. He storms off in the huff, as if he was going to get invited into the hay for a roll about. Probably unlikely Mikey.

Burial Ground: The zombies first appear in the daytime, and you never see a red sun.

When do the Nights of Terror truly begin? In the daytime, of course. While people are still rubbing up against each other in the grounds of the professor’s home, which seems a bit rum to me. The ground itself is alive with maggots, papier mache faces and preschool craft experiments gone badly wrong and attached to pensioners who move towards their dinners with as much pace as the recent Dune reboot. But these monsters aren’t stupid. They know how to swing a scythe and lop the head off a poor maid who just happened to bob her head out of window. They swarm an armed man and pull his guts out. The survivors fanny about until morning, when they end up in a set that has been used in about 5 other giallo/horrors that I’ve seen and then are eaten alive.

The final quote… well, I’ll just leave this here.

The Nigths of Terror from the Profecy of the Black Spider: There Are No Spiders In This Film

Three-Minute Review #11: Ichi The Killer (2001)

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I had my mind completely blown by mangaka Yamamoto Hideo’s (山本英夫) incredible Homunculus this week, a manga so powerful and compelling I read all 15 volumes in 24 hours.  Until I read up on the creator on Wikipedia, I had no idea that he had also written and drawn Ichi The Killer some years prior. I’d seen the movie back in 2001 and considered myself something of a scholar of Takashi Miike’s work [as an aside, please stop calling him ‘Mike’, as in ‘Mike the plumber’ or ‘Mike Jackson, the dead pop perv’; it’s pronounced ‘Me-eek-kay’]. I was unaware that it was based on an extremely violent yakuza manga. As soon as I’d completed Homunculus, I started in on Ichi. The two stories are poles apart visually and story-wise.

Returning now to the movie, thirteen years later, is a very different experience from when I first watched it in horrified silence in the company of friends. It’s become a byword for extremity on-screen, something cooked up by a disturbed mind from the Far East where the torture scenes conjure up harrowing memories of Unit 731, Abe Sada or centuries of unchecked violence under feudal rule. Watching it now, it’s a superbly black comedy that rarely strays from the original source material. It’s an almost-perfect comic book adaptation.

If you aren’t squeamish, the violence is utterly absurd, the characters over-the-top and universally despicable, and the amorality of the film couldn’t be more ironic if it tried. Violence begets violence, it’s as simple as that. The only scene that stuck out in my mind from the original viewing was a scene in which a yakuza is suspended with hooks Hellraiser-style while a slit-mouthed man pours hot oil onto his back. Kakihara dresses like the Joker in the movie version: wide-mouthed and dyed hair on top of a purple trenchcoat. Ichi himself is a proto-Batman in his all-black superhero bodysuit with a bright 1 on his back. It’s a perverse refraction of the DC character down to the abusive and violent childhood which created the ‘hero’, a questionable characteristic considering he spends his evenings indecently assaulting people.

The comedy is amplified in Takashi’s version: yakuza bumble about in a slapstick fashion when the boss faints after seeing Kakihara slice his own tongue off. He even takes a call, not reacting to the pain, while spitting fresh blood onto the boss’ table. Ridiculous rather than horrifying. The main difference is that the focus of the movie is on the villain of the piece rather than Ichi himself. In the first 50 minutes of run-time, Ichi appears only in three very short (but memorable) scenes, and is detached from the yakuza narrative completely.

Of course the sexual violence in the movie is deplorable, as it is in the manga, and these scenes are actually less graphic than the source material which makes for deeply uncomfortable reading. Yamamoto forces you to confront darkness you may not have seen before in comics on such a scale. It’s handled in a very gratuitous fashion that Western publishers wouldn’t dare print it lest they come under heavy fire from all spectrums of the media, but worst of all is essential to the story. The moral dilemma left me drained (contrasted with the vile use of a rape in Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass 2, which cemented my resolution never to read any of his work again).

What was confusing about viewing the movie in isolation was a lack of understanding about Japanese culture and customs, not knowing it was an adaptation, and regarding it as a sequence of extremely violent moments only loosely linked by the odd word here and there that barely composed a script. In actuality, the story makes much more sense after spending 10 hours reading the original, which may defeat the object but enriches the experience ten fold.

Synopsis (with spoilers): Ichi is a pawn of Jiji (Old Man), sent to do hits as and when he’s requested to do so. Old Man’s team consists of a junkie and a Chinese pimp, both of whom are equally dispensable. In a block of flats in Shinjuku, a dangerous part of Tokyo where prostitution, drugs and violence appear to be a part of daily life there (from experience of visiting the place, it’s not), a yakuza boss called Anjo and his mistress are killed by Ichi and their bodies cleaned up by the rest of the group. Kakihara, one of Anjo’s disciples and possible lover, refuses to believe his boss has done a runner with all the gang’s cash with his mistress. He sets out to find him, only to be misdirected by Old Man who claims other gangs within the same apartment block were behind his disappearance. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse as Kakihara attempts to find what happened to his boss. He reveals his masochistic side on numerous occasions, such as his penitent removal of the sweet part of his tongue in front of his superiors. Eventually Kakihara faces Ichi for a typically bloody Takashi showdown.

Return to this film. Watch it with filtered sunglasses on. It’s ridiculous, over-the-top nonsense. It is not an endorsement of violence or abuse, anything but. Takashi is taking the piss out of gangs and out of his audience because he knows at the end of the day you can’t take a joke.

Why so serious?

Three Minute Review #10: Bloody Birthday (1981)

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And the winner of the Most Cynical Attitude Towards Children Award goes to… Mr. Ed Hunt! Come up here! Take a bow! Wow. Simply, wowzers. Bloody Birthday is a triumph all right. Not only does it pack in all of the tosh we expect of slashers from the Eighties (death, breasts and bad dialogue), but it turns the genre upside down by making the killer a *SPOILER* murderous triad of preteens. What’s their motive? Honestly, I have no idea. Not a clue. Being taken to the dentist against their will. Or not being bought a car once they’d slid out of the womb. It is America, after all.

One of the group, an All-American Cutie by most preening mom’s standards, charges her gang 25 cents to view her sister through a hole in her closet dancing topless in her bedroom, cavorting with a fat-haired jock and later shoots an arrow into her eye and dumps her body by the bins for the men to collect in the morning. Does she find any of this harrowing? Not at all: the film ends with her dropping an entire truck on the poor sod who was lying underneath trying to fix it.

What surprised me about the film was the way that the children were portrayed; as soulless, cold-hearted murderers that don’t react in any way to the horrific things they’re doing to their friends, family and neighbours. It’s demented, unapologetic, harrowing and ridiculous, all good reasons for watching it.

7/10

Three Minute Review #9: The Stuff (1985)

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The Stuff has only existed in my memory as a hazy Betamax trailer seen at a bad kid’s house in the mid-80s, the sort of place you were discouraged from visiting should you pick up bad language or nits. I know next to nothing about its director Larry Cohen, and no one has ever mentioned this movie in hushed tones about its “lost classic” status. It’s probably not been available on DVD for the past ten years.

Time to face my fears then. Things kick off with no fanfare whatsoever. An bearded old geezer sees the ground bubbling up beneath him, decides to taste the white muck (as if you actually would do this) and discovers it’s the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted in his entire life. What are the odds! It being America, this natural product needs to be marketed and sold as quickly as possible to the greedy sods in the supermarket. Soon, the country is hooked and others in the dessert biz aren’t too happy about their plummeting sales. They hire Mo Rutherford to investigate the secret behind The Stuff’s success, and things take a decidedly X-Files-like turn as Mo drives around backyard USA meeting brick wall after brick wall trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious product.

One hour into the movie, you’re no wiser to the reason why The Stuff is so popular, where it came from, and why everyone has gone all Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Michael Moriarty gives an oddball performance as the investigator, and his abrupt romance with the PR woman had me scratching my head confused how he managed it. There are moments where sharks are jumped using the Titanic and yet it has the pace of an A-Team episode when they’re hammering all the junk together in a garage to go do in the baddies. Some of the shaving foam special effects look a bit dodgy but that’s to be expected of a mid-80s low-budget flick like this. It’s almost kid-friendly daytime TV stuff except for a few weird gross-out moments. Not the stuff of nightmares, but altogether not bad either. Except for the hairdos.

6/10

Three Minute Review #8: The Funhouse (1981)

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Another Tobe Hooper, this time from the early Eighties, and a mixed bag of testes: perhaps the start of his slide. The film starts with soon-to-be-last girl Amy (played by Amadeus actress Elizabeth Berridge) showering whilst a masked intruder (her younger brother) tries to stab her to death with a plastic knife. The homage to Psycho and pastiche of Carpenter’s Halloween is rather lazy and dated, and then there’s the creepy factor that a 10 year old is trying to peek at his sister’s soapy breasts.

Amy chastises the lad and then nicks off to the local fun fair with her jock date and stoner pals for a night shagging in the funhouse, owned by a redneck and his deformed son who works as the ride’s assistant in a Frankenstein’s monster mask. The group overhear him receiving hand pleasure from the aged fortune-teller and his quick bolt-throwing sends him into a murderous rage. He chokes the poor woman and then tells his father, who helps him cover up the murder because “family needs to stick together”, something Hooper hammered home in his earlier Chain Saw Massacre in 1974.

It’s a predictable affair and there’s not much to enjoy except the abrupt ending. If the characters were as unhinged as those in Eaten Alive or TCSM perhaps it could have been elevated beyond bargain bin fodder.

3/10

Three Minute Review #7: Eaten Alive (1977)

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Tobe Hooper’s follow-up feature after the deeply disturbing Texas Chain Saw Massacre was this blackly comic monster/slasher flick starring Neville Brand and a very young pre-Elm Street Robert Englund. Brand plays Judd, the proprietor of a run-down motel somewhere deep in the foggy Bayou, whose deep aversion to all things sexual has him feeding the patrons to his pet crocodile from Africa. What makes this film stand out from others is the eye-gouging EC Comic palette and abhorrent cast of characters that populate it. Think something along the lines of Lynch’s Wild At Heart, Jaws and Psycho thrown into a blender. Englund’s Buck character is as repugnant as any you’d find in a Tarantino, and there’s enough blood and relentless screaming to satisfy most gore freaks. A lost horror gem worth digging up.

9/10

Three Minute Review #6: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

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The Exorcist is rightly considered a peerless religious horror classic that still has the power to unsettle the most sceptical of viewers. In America, they take it much more seriously, and at a screening of the recut version in 2000, I sat with a spellbound and terrified audience which made for an electrifying cinema experience. John Boorman’s completely misguided sequel, even viewed unconnected to William Peter Blatty’s original, is like an embarrassing TV movie made by people with too much money. If it had been made in the Eighties, that money would have at least been snorted through a bill. Boorman didn’t know what to do with the source material or his cast. What’s left is an embarrassing mess best avoided. Go straight to Exorcist III, the superb and unfairly ignored follow-up.

2/10

Three Minute Review #5: The Night of Terror (1981)

BurialGround_poster

Made for £100 by the 13-year old Andrea Bianachi and written by his 6-year old brother Piero Rignoli, The Night of Terror (or Burial Ground) is a zombie film so bad, I can’t imagine what the backers said when they saw the first cut. They probably gouged their own eyes out screaming “WHY”. There’s nothing to recommend it other than a hilarious self-conscious sex scene featuring a densely pubic back going hell for leather on top of a crudely dubbed MILF. I’m sure the producers of Resident Evil found inspiration here: the zombies are hungover extras and the knackered-looking mansion looks pretty grim. However, the title is garbage: the majority of the “terror” occurs in broad daylight and couldn’t even give Tom Baker Doctor Who episodes a run for their money.

2/10

Three Minute Review #4: Fist of Fury (1972)

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Fist of Fury is to date the only Bruce Lee film I’ve ever seen, and I was surprised by the actor’s range. For someone who hung their trade off their one inch punch martial arts skills, he turns in a fine young thug, comical phone repair man and romantic lead. Not what you would expect from a Kung Fu flick at all. The other actors fade into the background next to Lee, and the portrayal of the Japanese does come across as bitter (particularly in light of the current tensions between the countries), but in context the Chinese did have a lot to be angry about after their awful treatment at the hands of their oppressors. The version I watched was widescreen and in Cantonese: I can’t abide dubbed foreign film. A good entry point for those who don’t have a clue about martial arts. Or neck punching.

7/10