When Routine Bites Hard, And Ambitions Are Low…

Thanks for hanging in there and reading my blog every day. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Oh wait. I haven’t posted anything in six years.

Well, the fact of the situation is I lost total interest in writing a blog, the reviews, or doing much of anything really after I translocated myself across to the other side of the world, starting a new band (which died after about 18 months), getting (over)worked and trying to start a new life in a country where I’m frequently greeting with the WTF expression because I’m a white. Sometimes its up, mostly its down. The grass is always greener, and all that.

In that time, some people have left my life sadly (ad some fortunately, I’ve met some right bellends here), some have left the face of the Earth, and even my hobbies like MTG which I was devoting an enormous amount of time and dedication to decided to go all “PC-And-Charge-$300-For-A-Box” so I decided to give that the boot. Very sad thing too, all this giving up stuff. Boo hoo.

And of course we have China. Thanks for your contribution to World Peace. You deserve the Nobel Prize for Not Knowing How To Wash Your Fucking Hands Properly. Particularly after using those squatting toilets, which are a shitting disgrace. I should add they have those in Japan too, and if you’re willing to piss-skate over the puddle of effluent to risk dropping one, then be my guest. Thankfully they’re on the way out. A bit like the Japanese population, actually.

1831_1563210927
Ian Curtis: He’s dead.

To raise my spirits in the past fortnight I’ve been listening to upbeat British music such as Joy Division and Joy Division and Wire, with some Joy Division thrown in for good measure. Sadly, one of them topped themselves after his wife broke his copy of Low, which to be fair, is a mixed bag.

81s+UFcFaUL._AC_SL1500_
“Mixed Bag”: Bowie’s LOW

I also lied to the general public and said that a follow up to A HERO OF OUR TIME would be out by the end of 2018, and as usual sailed past that deadline with not a care in the world. In fact, I hadn’t even done the raw exports on most of the tracks except about 40-50 rough sessions which I listened to driving around mountains at 3 in the morning wondering what the hell to sing over them. During those moments, I imagined Simon sitting at his desk in London in his suit thinking “What the fuck is that lazy bastard doing by not recording anything?”. Well, having a bit of a holiday really I suppose.

It was only after I stopped trying to write new songs for ATK, which in the end was like pulling splinters out of a wooden leg for various reasons, that I discovered a new form of drug: the PS4. Thus, like another genius before him called Trent Reznor, spent the next 18 months playing FPSs and not actually doing anything remotely creative (his problem was DOOM, mine is DESTINY 2).

destinywhisper
Destiny 2: Crack Is Bad For You

Without any specific trigger, such as someone standing outside my house shouting GEORGE FLOYD (no relation to PINK, apparently), I ended up writing and recording every day and annoying Simon via iMessage about all the wonderful and terrible creative things coming his way, which has probably given him a migraine because suddenly there’s this spurt of activity after years of bugger all from my end, for which I am entirely and solely to blame. Sorry Simon and Lex (and Tom). I’m a lazy fucker.

2020 has been a total write-off for many reasons. The best things about it I have no intention of sharing with you, as I don’t know who the fuck you are, but maybe I’ll bring back some of my fabulous complaint posts which annoyed a couple of people at Jesmond Pool in Newcastle (which I imagine is made up now of 96% faecal matter since I last visited).

If you made it this far, I pity you.

 

 

 

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

ichi-the-killer

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?

I really need to stop watching ガキの使い, but it’s so damn funny.

I know this one is going to take some explaining.

I’m addicted to a TV show that you’ve never heard of, seen or even imagined. It’s Japanese, so for those who do know me that’ll be somewhat of a non-revelation. It’s a weekly comedy show and has been running continuously since October 3, 1989 on NTV. And it’s so damn strange that a critical analysis for a gaijin such as yourself is going to make me sound like the mentalist for liking it in the first place.

First up, the title just trips off the tongue: Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ダウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!). Downtown are a comedy duo who’ve spent pretty much the last 20-plus years on Japanese TV, and are probably the most popular comedians working there today. Perhaps only Beat Takeshi is more popular, though for Western audiences we know him as a brutal gangster, bastard of a policeman or a guy in a funny hat who presides over a castle where people snap ribs trying to break in

It’s through that show that I came to find out about Gaki no Tsukai (the shorter, more Brit-friendly way I pronounce the show’s title). As a child, I used to like shows like Crush A Grape, Fun House and It’s a Royal Knockout (repeats). Today, that’s replaced by Total Wipeout on BBC1 presented by Richard Hairmond. If you’ve not seen Takeshi’s Castle, you’re missing a really funny/painful/public humiliation/trial of the human spirit/wtf? tv show. The UK edition is narrated by Craig Charles and has been running on digital for quite a few years now.

Once I’d had my fill of that, I was out of ideas of what to watch next. Not knowing any Japanese (at the time), there’s no way you can just google this stuff up. Then I was told about Gaki‘s ‘infamous’ batsu games. Check this out:

Gaki’s stars, the duo known as Downtown (Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada) hail from Osaka, the lovely foodie part of Japan. Having been there and eaten the udon, I can vouch for the friendly atmosphere and people, and the less hectic lifestyle compared to Tokyo. The concept of the batsu developed early on, when one of the pair would lose a bet and be forced to accept a punishment. Often this would be something ridiculous like Matsumoto dressing up as the NTV bird and providing the beeeeep! of the colour test, to Hamada having to fly to France in a day to retrieve Evian from the glacier where it comes from. Then things started to get more serious. As in, funnier.

The first big televised event was in March 2000, where Hamada, plus three other cast members (the duo Cocorico, and the hard done-to Hosei Yamasaki, a favourite of mine) had to spend 24 hours playing tag in a school gymnasium. The twist in this case was that the taggers, once you were caught, would then exact an awful, and often painful, punishment upon the victim.

Full video, with subtitles:

[continued…]