Tag Archives: Yûdai Yamaguchi

CAPSULE: DEADBALL (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mari Hoshino

PLOT: A boy with a (literally) killer fastball grows up to become a vigilante, is imprisoned, and is blackmailed into playing on the jailhouse baseball squad despite the fact that he has sworn never to use the fatal pitch again.

Still from Deadball (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: strikes out with this charmless screwball baseball-gore comedy.

COMMENTS: Deadball lost me at the first special effect. Dared to throw some real heat, preteen pitching prodigy Jubeh jumps into a green screen stratosphere and launches his best ball from a mile up. The fatal results are expressed by an extremely fake CGI fireball laid over the film, followed by an extremely weak and thin CGI blood splatter from the victim, followed by a closeup of a subpar latex mask with a distorted eyeball lolling off to one side and stage blood bubbling up through a puncture wound in the forehead. Sure, we know the movie is cheap, but there is a real laziness in this scene, a rushed “that’s good enough” feeling. I got the sense that Deadball doesn’t think too highly of its target audience, especially since the rest of the movie—with its incoherent plot and jokes about puke-eating and body cavity searches—seems to have been written by a team of particularly immature twelve-year-old boys during breaks on the playground. Everything about the movie is cheap. Locations are minimal; the prison set Jubeh gets remanded to after he turns into a vigilante looks like a modified warehouse, and the warden’s office looks like a garage (there’s even a car parked in it). Costumes are also threadbare, although when it comes to the opposing team, a squad of female delinquents uniformed in black leather bikinis and ripped fishnet stockings, there might not be so many complaints. Nazis play a role in the plot (what, the Japanese can’t plunder their own fascist history for villains?), so swastika armbands offer more cost-conscious wardrobe choices, while a prop portrait of a vaguely Asian Hitler that looks like it came from a Yokohoma thrift shop is an unintentionally amusing lowlight. As we’ve already discussed, the special effects are bottom-of-the-barrel, even for splatterpunk (which usually prides itself on its crimson-tinged money shots, if nothing else). The digital blood here is just way too voluminous, and way too cartoonish: a geyser of a nosebleed, in particular, is simultaneously nauseating and risible. By the time they trotted out the giant robot in the ninth inning, I just didn’t care about the outcome anymore. Deadball‘s lone asset is Tak Sakaguchi, who somehow manages to convincingly play a teenager even in his thirties. For whatever reason, his character is modeled on Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name,” right down to the Navajo duster who wears slung across his shoulders. There’s a running joke about how he always manages to have a cigarette ready that’s one of the few gags that actually works (the other notable example being an extremely silly moment when he punches his dominatrix warden through the phone). Sakaguchi manages to keep some kind of dignity in the film, and considering the script requires him to fighting a transvestite using a salt-shaker full of MSG as a weapon, that’s a testament to the actor’s inherent heroic charisma. Sushi Typhoon keeps grinding out these DVDs, and they’re showing no signs of stopping. Deadball may suffer at my keyboard because it is the latest in a long line of these gory assembly line B-imports, but I can honestly say that this movie, in particular, annoyed the hell out of me. Hell, I’d rather watch an A-Rod at bat than see Deadball again; they both cheat the audience, but at least Rodriguez is trying.

Deaball is a reworking of an earlier Yamaguchi film entitled Battlefield Baseball (2003), that also starred Sakaguchi. That one reportedly had an even lower budget than Deadball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Filmed in the bloody style of Battle Royale and fueled by a rowdy cast of hilariously psychotic characters, the film is nothing but splatter-action that at times literally sizzles with shamelessly low budget yet playful visual effects.”–Maggie Lee, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE ABCS OF DEATH (2012)

Weirdest!(segments F, W, Z)

DIRECTED BY: Kaare Andrews, , & , Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, , Adrián García Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Lee Hardcastle, , Thomas Cappelen Malling, Jorge Michel Grau, Anders Morgenthaler, , Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, , Jon Schnepp, , Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, , Adam Wingard,

FEATURING: Too many actors to list individually, and no one appears onscreen for long enough to qualify as “featured”

PLOT: 26 short horror films about death, each inspired by an assigned letter of the alphabet.

Still from The ABCs of Death (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As you might expect from an anthology with a hefty twenty-six entries in a multitude of styles, it’s too uneven and not consistently weird enough for consideration for the List. That said, there are three very, very strange shorts here, and several others that nudge the weirdometer at least a little bit, which makes this worth a look-see.

COMMENTS: Rendered in a wild variety of morbid styles ranging from the avant-garde to the zany, these twenty six short films about death derive from a new breed of up and coming punk directors working in the diffuse genre that now loosely goes by the name “horror.” All the usual disclaimers about anthology films apply to The ABCs of Death, but this compilation faces an additional alphabetical hurdle: if A, B and C are all duds (and I say they are), the movie gets off to a slow start, and there’s nothing the editors can do about it. The order is locked in place and randomized, and the curators can’t impose any sort of flow on the show. The fact that each entry has to be unusually short (after the 11 minutes of end credits are subtracted from the run time we come out to four-and-a-half minutes per mini-movie) is more of a virtue than a drawback, since we aren’t asked to invest much time in the inevitable losers and failed experiments. The necessity for each director to hit hard and fast, with no time to build up true horror, led me to expect shock, gore, and cruel comedy to dominate over true terror. ABCs delivers on that score, but there was also a trend that make me wonder where horror’s head is at. Three out of the twenty-six entries—that’s 11.5%—prominently feature a toilet, and that’s not even counting the one that’s flatulence based. Has horror finally dug to the bottom of the bucket of viscera, and now there’s nowhere else to turn but the toilet to elicit cheap disgust? A more promising development, and one that’s much more to the point of this website, is that the exact same number of shorts (3, or 11%) were unabashedly weird-–suggesting that cutting-edge horror continues to be the last refuge for surrealism in pop culture. Before describing the three bizarre gems, we’ll mention a couple of odd, and not so odd, runners-up. “P is for Pressure,” set in a third-world country and involving a prostitute’s quest to buy an expensive present for her daughter’s birthday, is the omnibus’ only dramatic entry; although it has a morally sickening climax, it is authentically and unexpectedly touching. Though not written by Srdjan Spasojevic (who turns in an extreme but unmemorable riff on “R”), the violent and transgressive porn fantasia “L is for Libido” has a disturbing Serbian Film vibe (with a hallucinatory kick) that soils the mind. On the opposite end of the sexual spectrum, Catette and Forzani’s “O is for Orgasm” is a surprisingly beautiful and experimental explosion of color-filter eroticism that traffics in the concept of sexual release as “la petite mort.” In a normal compilation, “H is for Hydroelectric,” a Chuck-Jones-does-furry-porn style adventure in which an anthropomorphic Nazi stripper fox lures a British bulldog pilot to his doom, would be the WTF-iest entry. Here, however, it’s only an honorable mention, as that title is literally taken by “W is for WTF?” This is a study in surrealistic economy: initially appearing to be a self-aware parody, it quickly establishes a comic book mesh of Satanic gore porn, killer walruses, zombie clowns, and decapitated animators, then spins the images in a psychedelic blender for two gloriously insane minutes. “W” features miniskirted nurses and princess warriors in chain mail bikinis, but for gleefully adolescent gross-out sleaze, nothing beats Noboru Iguchi’s already notorious “F is for Fart.” It’s the tender tale of a lesbian schoolgirl that defiantly expresses a humanistic preference for the gas of an earthly lover over the vengeful flatus of God. “Fart”‘s motto is “let’s pass beyond the boundaries of good taste and become one together,” and does it ever achieve the first part, at least—this is a bad-taste stunner for an unstunable age. Still, top honors in the “weird” category go to Iguchi’s frequent collaborator Yoshihiro Nishimura, who continues to set himself apart as the brigade’s most inventive and audacious talent with ABCs’ capper, “Z is for Zetsumetsu” (“extinction”). A blond Nazi hermaphrodite fights a nude kung fu woman while a Japanese Dr. Strangelove comments on the action; it’s somehow inspired by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquakes, and there are satirical references to American imperialism, the nuclear power industry, and Japan’s own sense of racial superiority. A topless rendition of the 9-11 bombings may have Americans shaking their heads, but it’s hard to be too offended by something that resembles an insane sushi chef’s wet dream (multiple characters ejaculate rice). Whatever associations this stew of mad images raises in the Japanese consciousness, its bizarro bona fides are unquestionable.

Of course, we would have highlighted an entirely different set of segments if this piece had been written for a gorehound journal or a monster blog. One of the issues with what marches under the banner of “horror” these days is that it’s a loose confederation of disreputable interests that encompasses torture porn, black comedy, sick eroticism and experimental imagery alongside traditional stories of vampires, hauntings and madman. With two films prominently featuring pedophilia, and the aforementioned scatology and surrealism joining the expected blood and guts, ABCs‘ selections suggests that the modern horror genre is becoming a final resting place for the generally transgressive rather than for the terrifying per se.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wow, what a weird, anarchic, energetic and exciting display, from claymation to puppetry to crazy postmodern collage to regular old live action!… I’ll take the movies that pissed me off too, if in some way they help make possible things as divergent and weird and exciting as Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s abstract, erotic ‘O Is for Orgasm,’ Simon Rumley’s grave and dramatic prostitution mini-melodrama ‘P Is for Pressure,’ and animator Jon Schnepp’s hyperactive every-genre-at-once ‘W Is for WTF?’ (probably my favorite of them all).”–Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: YAKUZA WEAPON (2011)

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Tak Sakaguchi, Shingo Tsurumi, Mei Kurokawa, Jun Murakami

PLOT: One-man army Shozo is called back from mercenary work in South America after the Still from Yazkua Weapon (2011)

death of his father, a powerful yakuza boss. He sets out to reclaim control of his gang, eventually joining an experimental government program that implants robotic weapons into his body.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Combining elements of splatterpunk, gangster intrigue, and science-fiction, Yakuza Weapon is too insane to not at least consider for the List. In some ways, it’s only weird in that peculiarly “Japanese” way of other action films of its ilk, but at times it moves into its own truly bizarre territory that seems without precedent.

COMMENTS: With the belief that if he’s not afraid of death nothing can kill him, Shozo is a seemingly immortal killer who gave up his yakuza family in favor of mercenary work in South America (or something). He returns after hearing of his father’s death and seeks to wrest control of his territory back from Kurawaki, a sleazy business executive planning to unite all the gangs under his control. After various crazy battles and the kidnapping of his fiancee Nayoko (a strong fighter herself), Shozo is finally bested by a rocket launcher and helicopter minigun. He is re-built as a weaponized cyborg by secret government agents, who use him to take down Kurawaki and his army of drugged-out henchmen. Eventually he has to fight his long-lost blood brother, Testu, who has some unique robotic firearms of his own.

Replete with gravity-defying fight scenes, intense bouts of yelling, a host of kooky characters, and plenty of unreal splatterpunk action, Yakuza Weapon is entertaining through and through, in large part because of its weirdness. Everyone is operating at high volume and high energy levels, especially co-director/co-writer/stuntperson/star Tak Sakaguchi, who literally broke his back for this movie during a particularly impressive one-take group fight scene. The low-budget and rushed shooting time are sometimes apparent (though the CGI for the yakuza weapon-bits looks pretty good), but the filmmakers’ stunt experience leads to an array of fantastic and often hilarious action scenes.

The story is stock stuff for this genre, with revenge and gang rivalries and robotic appendages and ridiculous drama not surprising anyone. But, the script is definitely strong, producing interesting characters and tight pacing that elevates Yakuza Weapon above many other competitively crazy splatterpunk-type films. There are some truly oddball characters—notably Kurawaki’s giggly brother and Shozo’s adorably clueless sidekicks—and a couple of completely unexpected moments. Nayoko throws a boat, Shozo collapses an entire building because he doesn’t want to walk up stairs, and Tetsu battles using the weaponized (and naked) corpse of his dead sister while he’s hyped up on some neon blue wonder-drug. That last part is definitely the weirdest thing in the entire movie.

Whether or not it turns out to be Certifiably weird, this film is a helluva lot of fun, and definitely memorable. The filmmakers’ obvious enthusiasm for the project shines through, making the audience smile widely as grown men shout nonsense and digitally-added blood splatters against the walls. It’s a beautiful thing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is a film that constantly ignores Kurawaki’s injunction to ‘face reality’ (a principle that Kurawaki himself hardly upholds), instead preferring devil-may-care irrationality – and if its ambition far outpaces its budget, that only makes it resemble its hero, who is funny precisely for being dumb, hyperviolent, and far too big for his boots.”–Anton Bitel, Eye For Film (contemporaneous)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Yûdai Yamaguchi and Jun’ichi Yamamoto

FEATURING: Issei Takahashi, Aoba Kawai

PLOT:  Alien parasites infect human hosts, morphing their bodies into bio-combat machines who then fight each other to the death; shy factory worker Yôji and Sachiko, the lonely girl he fancies, soon find themselves caught up in the struggle.

Still from Meatball Machine (2005)


WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEMeatball Machine‘s alien gladiator-parasite setup is bizarre, but the movie never really tries to top its strangeness.  Rather, the weirdness pretty much stops at the premise, as the producers instead spend their energy indulging their true loves: gore and special effects.  The result is a movie that’s well within the weird genre, but not an outstanding example of it. (NOTE: upon further reflection, Meatball Machine was upgraded to “Borderline Weird” on 7/5/2010).

COMMENTS: To say that Meatball Machine‘s storyline is thin would be an insult to the relatively dense scripts of Michael Bay. In fact, the entire last half hour of the movie is nothing but an extended melee that persists long after the dual directors have run out of combat hooks.  To keep us emotionally involved in between (and during) the fight scenes, the plot takes a perfunctory stab at a touching love story between two losers; viewers will have to buy into this romance on their own, as neither the script nor the actors sell it.  But though Meatball Machine might be light on depth, what the movie does have going for it is unforgettable costume design and a few endearing oddnesses; and, of course, buckets of gore, for those who consider that a plus.  The alien parasites who populate this film thrive by inserting themselves inside humans and mutating the host body to create an ever-evolving arsenal of extremely implausible organic weapons, among which are biochainsaws, bioflamethrowers, and, for the necroborg who has everything, a visor complete with a windshield wiper to keep blood from splashing into his Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)