Monday, June 1, 2015

Macaroni Western Blu-rays Part 1

Some quick shots of these discs I picked up in used shops around Tokyo last year. They were too cheap to pass up, even if I couldn't figure out what I was buying. The Great Silence was easy enough, but I had no idea the other was Day of Anger. The video quality is sub-par compared to the recent Arrow Video release, and the The Great Silence has disappointing video. Nothing I'd want to pay full price($35-ish), but for around $13USD, what the hell, I'm a sucker for Japanese packaging.

Monday, May 25, 2015

VHS Nostalgia, please go away......

The last 2 VHS tapes I own

NOSTALGIA- a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

 Horror and genre fandom has had a huge boom in VHS nostalgia over the past few years. I can understand collecting VHS boxes for some of the fantastic artwork or having some childhood favorites on VHS adorning your video shelf. But recently I've heard the opinion that VHS actually contains some type of analog magic that digital formats like dvd and blu-ray can't replicate. I've actually heard some stunning ignorance in regard to VHS and high definition and how people think movies should be viewed.

What bothers me about VHS nostalgia is that it's ignoring historical context in order to champion VHS hipness.

First off, I loved VHS. I Bought, collected and traded movies on VHS. I had rental memberships all over the state I lived in. I would rent from Chinese groceries to get Hong Kong films. I worked in VHS rental stores and a laserdisc store by the mid 90s.

I'm here to tell you it's never been a better time to be a genre film fan than now.

Lovers of VHS will tell you how many titles are on VHS that have never been released on other formats. This is true, but with a little work you can find nearly any title you want online. Movies have been transferred from VHS to digital in order to share them with the world. Unless you are a film fan that is on the university level of film studies nearly everything you want is "out there". *wink*wink*

I've also heard how important it is to preserve VHS because it could be the last format a movie is available on. If you really want to save and preserve a film you should look for a film print or negative. If a VHS is the sole remaining copy of a film, it should be handed over to archivists and not be in someone's home video collection.

Next up, the quality of VHS was TERRIBLE. It sucked. And nothing was widescreen! That should be a dealbreaker right there for any reasonable film fan, When working at the laserdisc store at the advent of DVD, the negative reaction and anger towards DVD was unbelievable. Some people get very emotionally invested in these formats and simply won't listen to reason. Or you get the old "Looks good enough to me" reasoning, You would hear the same thing about blu-ray/HD and still do!

So lets compare the days to VHS to the present shall we?

-Realistically your local video store would only stock a fraction of what was available on VHS., If you have Netflix Instant and Hulu Plus your choice of films is far beyond what you would find in your average rental store. The Criterion section on Hulu Plus would put most any foreign section of a video store in the late 1980s to shame.

-Anyone remember when new movies on VHS would cost about $80-90? Or what about spending $100-125 for a single movie on a Criterion laserdisc? This was before Amazon, so you can forget about heavy discounts. People complaining about $40 Criterion blu-rays are pretty amusing if you remember Criterion laserdiscs.

-Remember all those cut and retitled movies on VHS? When it came to horror and b movie titles you could never be sure what version you were getting. You had to read magazines like Video Watchdog to figure out what releases were worth buying.

-It sure is nice to have all the new releases on rental streaming services without having to call the video store and reserving a tape. Nothing is ever rented out. It's fantastic!

-You can find nearly ANY film you want online with some determination.

-Blockbuster Video! Remember these puritanical assholes? They refused to carry The Last Temptation of Christ. They refused to carry "unrated" or NC-17 versions of films like The Cook, The Thief, his Wife and Her Love, The Toxic Avenger, True Romance, Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer, Frankenhooker, Suspiria,and the list goes on and on.

-It has never been a better time to be a genre movie fan. The wealth of titles available is mindblowing. The quality of a lot of HD/blu-ray titles are second only to watching them in  a theater on 35mm, where movies were intended to be seen. Blu-Ray and HD give new life to vintage genre films from Shaw Brothers martial arts, Japanese monster movies and Italian genre films. Watching any Mario Bava film on VHS instead of HD would be doing yourself a serious disservice.

However if you are going to start espousing how VHS is a superior format and you'd rather watch the butchered version of The Beyond on Thillervideo's 7 Doors of Death VHS instead of Grindhouse Releasing's new The Beyond blu-ray, I'd say you are out of your damn mind.

Yes, an unprecedented amount of films were dumped onto VHS in the 1980s. It was the wild, wild west. Title changes, cuts, dubs(no dual audio tracks) and nearly EVERYTHING was pan and scanned at best or brutally cropped with the picture locked dead center.

One HUGE thing the VHS Nostalgia folks are forgetting, a lot of top shelf Euro horror and cult titles were only available in butchered versions on VHS, if at all. It took Suspiria over a decade to get a US VHS release. EVERY SINGLE CLASSIC DARIO ARGENTO FILM WAS CENSORED ON AMERICAN VHS. Deep Red. Phenomena, Bird Withe the Crystal Plummage. Tenebrae. All those Euro Horror titles Anchor Bay released in the late '90s and early 2000s on DVD was the first time these titles had proper releases.

Take a look at old Fangoria magazines from the '80s and marvel at the VHS prices. Most of them between $40-80. And it was a labyrinth of retitlings and cut films. Pick up a vintage copy of Video Watchdog. Editor and genre film journalist Tim Lucas made a career out of cataloging cuts and retitlings on tapes and discs the world over. During the VHS Boom, companies would dump all kinds of crap into video stores. They were just out to make a buck and didn't give a damn about the consumers or quality control. We now have companies who actually care and are curating fantastic films.

There has never been a better time to be a genre film fan or just a film fan in general. Between DVD, blu-ray, streaming services and the magic of the "internet", you can find nearly any movie you want.
For genre film fans, just off the top of my head, entire subgenres are able to be rediscovered or re-evaluated on DVD and blu, some for the first time with English subtitles. Paul Naschy. Jess Franco. EuroCrime. Shaw Brothers films. Japanese monster movies and Japanese films in general, from Kinji Fukasaku crime epics to the ero-guro sleaze of Teruo Ishii. All the fantastic work that companies like Synapse, Blue Underground, Mondo Macabro, Grindhouse, Raro, Arrow, Shout Factory, and others shout be applauded.

Enjoy your nostalgia folks, a lot of this hobby is all about nostalgia. I think it's great if you have a shelf full of original Wizard Video big boxes. But don't get caught up in VHS just for the sake of the old memories. Take advantage of the wealth of cinema that's out there! There's an an INSANE amount of amazing films to dig into and discover.

Now get off of my lawn and go watch some movies

Forgot to mention something. If you are transferring hard to find VHS movies to digital and sharing them, I salute you. If you track down widescreen Japanese tapes of Bruno Mattei movies and upload them for all to see, you are doing the Lord's work. Whoever uploaded the Japanese widescreen version of the Hong Kong film "Mirage" would get a Nobel prize if it was up to me.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Memories

This weekend the local comic con took place. As a kid I loved comics and went to a few local shows and a horror convention in the '80s. Unbelievably, back then you didn't need to pay for autographs and the people I met were all unbelievably kind. The pics below are of unused autographed TMNT covers from a signing at a comic shop. This was obviously before the Turtles blew up in the mainstream. Tuning into watch the TMNT cartoon as a teenage fan of the original comics was my first lesson on how things will usually disappoint when Hollywood and big money get involved. 

I don't understand the current celebrity autograph culture that conventions have turned into. I'm just thankful for my experiences as a kid and that Tom Savini didn't fleece me for all my paper route money.

Apologies for the crappy resolution but my good camera is having issues.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ultra Q: There's still a bit of gold in dem hills

I've been mainlining kaiju films since a kid. But there's only so many. I've got all the Godzilla/Toho  tokusatsu films. Got all the Gamera films and oddball films like The Last Dinosaur. With 100s  or 1000s of spaghetti westerns, giallo, martial arts and Eurocrime films, it just seems like the well for Japanese Giant monster is so, so shallow.

I've never been a fan of Ultraman, just never captivated me and with the amount I spend on Godzilla stuff it's probably for the better. This week I picked up Ultra Q(1966) on dvd from Shout Factory. It's been out for a few years and it's fantastic. Try to picture a 30 minute Twilight Zone/Outer Limits episode with a giant monster in it, by the same people who did the SFX for the Godzilla films in the 1960s.

If you are a kaiju fan this is essential viewing, from a historical perspective and it's just a hell of a lot of fun,

Friday, May 1, 2015

Battles Without Honor and need to see these films.

Legendary director Kinji Fukasaku made a series of 5 gangster films, which are in the running for best gangster film(s) ever. That's right, these films are in the same class as The Godfather and Goodfellas. Battles Without Honor and Humanity changed the yakuza genre in Japan and were based on the true accounts of  how gangsters ran things in Hiroshima from the end of the war up until the then, current modern era. He also directed more than a few other great crime films in about a 6 year period. Before Fukasaku,1960s yakuza films were usually moody B&W affairs that emulated American and European film noir. There were also more traditional "ninkyo" films that portrayed yakuza more as wandering gamblers that would usually correct some type of wrong or come into conflict with the yakuza code.In the West Fukasaku is primarily known for Battle Royale from 2000. Before that his campy 1960s Rampo adaptation "Black Lizard" that featured a drag queen, along with acclaimed  author, body builder and ballsy suicidal nationalist, got a limited arthouse and VHS release in the late '80s. And of course everyone  knows The Green Slime and it's theme song from back in the late '60s.

In Japan, Fukasaku is a legendary and highly respected director. In the States, his epic crime films are barely discussed outside a couple books devoted to Japanese cinema.

So folks, all 3 of you that read this, go out and grab this set. For me, these are better gangster epics than the Godfather series or Goodfellas, because they honestly portray gangsters as the worst of humanity and don't serve up power tripping wish fulfillment or glamorize the subject.And make no mistake, I love Goodfellas. It's exhilarating cinema. Fukasaku's films shattered the old style chivalrous ninkyo yazuka films.His film are dense and disorienting. The dvd boxset comes with a map of the crime families and major players. So yeah, sorry, you will learn something about Japanese crime, society and film. But it's soooooo worth it. 

Here's a few pics of the boxset, I'm going to dive into some more Fukasaku crime films and will do some more babbling here when I finish up. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jimbocho Goji

So such for those great posters that actually show Godzilla

If you mentioned Godzilla in North America in the spring of 2014 you'd usually hear a few standard responses.  

-Something last movie Something Matthew Broderick.

-"Remember that big Godzilla toy with the shooting fist?"


-Gooo-ji---rah!(said in a corny faux Asian accent)

Most of these spring from nostalgia from the '70s. Much like "Grindhouse Nostalgia" pop culture has twisted the collective memory into something which isn't terribly accurate. There's nothing wrong with being a casual fan or having nostalgia, but listening to people countering opinions critical of the 2014 film, particularly the lack of Godzilla's screentime with the defense  along the lines of  "Have you ever seen a Godzilla movie? He always just shows up at the end", "This is the Godzilla movie we always wanted" and proclaiming how much they love Godzilla movies. 

Last spring I attended 35mm screenings of 12 Godzilla movies over 9 days in Tokyo.While attending these screenings, I had the realization that the gulf between Western and Japanese appreciation of these film is deep and very, very different. I'm a big dummy with a few observations, opinions,  and NO deep insight into Japanese cinema or culture, but I know a bit about Godzilla movies.

In the U.S., the most widely seen Godzilla films seem to be Godzilla 1985, King Kong vs Godzilla and Godzilla vs Megalon. There are a lot of passionate and well informed Godzilla fans in the West, but they are few and far between. And sadly, there is an underlying racism when it comes to American audiences and Asian films. It's gotten better over the years, but it still lingers. 

 Godzilla is not popular in Japan anymore. It's been 10 years since the last film and it seriously under performed at the box office. The last time Godzilla had some consistent popularity was in the the early to mid 90s. Over 20 years ago. 

The Godzilla films weren't meant for Western audiences. And American audiences find it hard to believe that things aren't made with them in mind. Ever since the collaborations with Henry Saperstein back in the 1960s, Toho, while happy is to export them, they have aimed Godzilla films at domestic audiences, In the 1970s the series clearly tried to ape Ultraman and other hero tv shows. Most of the '70s Godzilla films in the States were released out of order and years after they were released in their homeland, Of the 13 Godzilla films released in Japan from 1984 to 2004 only 2 made it to the US theaters with wide releases. Godzilla 1985 and Godzilla 2000. Both of them dubbed, camped up and significantly altered, one painfully so. 

If you are Japanese these films offer up a parade of familiar faces. Idols, comedians, and recognizable actors are all over these films. Another aspect of Godzilla movies are seeing new and old landmarks, famous tourist destinations and possibly your office building destroyed. Locations and structures that don't register with your average Western viewer are well known, many times intimately so, by the average Japanese. Each film features at least 2 or 3 well known sites.

Where's Baragon?

 Japanese culture, folklore and religion is much more "monster friendly". In the West where realism in cinema is held high in popular entertainment, giant monsters must have some reason for being. Godzilla is usually referred to as a radioactive dinosaur or lizard. In Japan, ghosts, goblins and giant monsters are just allowed to "be" without lots of explaining. In the East from Bollywood musicals, martial arts films and Japanese monster movies, "realism" as Westerners expect it, is not the norm.
It's a very Western, particulary American, way of looking at cinema.
For a Godzilla maniac, vacation is even more fun when you realize this is where Godzilla and Biollante had their first fight.

The reason I'm writing this is because I've finally accepted that I like Godzilla and kaiju films because of their Japaneseness. It's why the 2014 American film didn't do much for me. So many  casual fans just irritated me, They consume Godzilla as the America media offers it to them. They don't have the curiosity to venture beyond that, and while I certainly don't expect many people to do that, when I'm in a comic shop or some geeky corner of the web, I rarely see people go outside of what has been fed to them. It's OK "not to know". The context of a lot of these films is fascinating and worth more than a few yucks over a giant moth. There's a certain cultural arrogance that Asian films bring out in North American audiences and it bugs the shit outta me.

It's just hard seeing Godzilla successfully tailored for Americans. It's like going to Benihana after you've had a few good meals in Japan.

At the Japanese screenings of these films, the fans sincerly enjoy them and treat the creators with a great deal of respect. It's something that you can't convey to casual American fans.

Fingers crossed for 2016.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Diamond X-Plus Godzilla figures

Last year my hobby money was spent on a few of the X Plus Godzilla figures offered my Diamond Distributors in North America. I always see fantastic X Plus figures in Japan, but the prices are usually too much for me because the figures quickly sell out and the prices go up in the secondary market. So I jumped on these "reasonably" priced 30cm figures and wasn't disappointed. For my taste and price range, they are the best representation of Toho monsters suits obtainable. The sculpts and paint jobs are fantastic.

Godzilla 2001,'89, and '03 (left to right)

Hedorah aka Smog Monster

D'oh, need to dust........

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Favorite films of 2014 and a couple turds

Not that anyone cares, but here's some movies I really liked in 2014. Clearly, I'm a voting member of the Academy of Motion Pictures. 

The Raid 2

Grand Budapest Hotel


Why Don't You Play in Hell?

Jodorowsky's Dune

The Tale of Princess Kaguya-Goddamn Studio Ghibli, making me tear up again....

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The Babadook- Best annoying kid in a horror film since House by the Cemetery 


Here's some of the worst shit I saw:

I, Frankenstein. Are you fucking kidding me?

Why did I Redbox this turd? Amazing Spiderman 2

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Shaw Bros martial arts films on Hulu Plus

14 legit Celestial Shaw Bothers films popped up on Hulu Plus in HD with original English dubs. Some, like "Vengeance", haven't seen official North American DVD releases. While you'll never catch me watching an English dub of a Tsui Hark or post 1985 Hong Kong film, these dubs work for me on a nostalgic level along with letting my eyes take in all the glorious artifice of a Shaw Bros production in HD. These films look beautiful restored and it's kinda a shame classic kung fu films fell victim to faux-grindhouse and VHS fetishization in the conscience of so many viewers.

Watched The New Shaolin Boxers and enjoyed it quite a bit. The "good guy standing up to a gang" plot is tired, but the cast and kung fu are solid. Fu Sheng, Beardy, and Chang Cheh at the helm. I'm easily amused by these films and own a lot on disc. But there are so many, it seems there's always something I haven't gotten to yet.

Hulu Plus is worth the $8 just for the Criterion Collection titles they offer. While they don't offer every title that is out on disc, they do offer many that aren't on disc. Hell, it's worth the cash just to see Hanzo the Razor titles with the Criterion logo on them,

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Alright, lets give this blogging thing another go....

A few pics from a highlight of 2014. More to come, got a lot of new Godzilla stuff. As a fan of all things Japanese monsters, it's been an odd couple years with all the exposure the genre has gotten in the West from Pacific Rim and Godzilla(2014). It really opened my eyes to how differently North Americans and Japanese perceive these films and characters. Sorting out my thoughts and observations on the subject which I'll post here for no one to read.