Tag Archives: 2011

26*. THE WARPED FOREST (2011)

Asatte no Mori

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“…an ‘idiot’ or a ‘comedy’ The Thing….”–director  describing his stylistic aspirations for The Warped Forest

DIRECTED BY: Shunichiro Miki

FEATURING: , , Yoji Tanaka,

PLOT: Nine people are vacationing at a Japanese hot springs resort; some of them have disappeared for three days and reappeared without explanation. In an alternate universe, these nine pursue an existence in a village inside magical forest of sexualized fruit, miniature people, and brothels stocked with nipple-sucking creatures. The alter-egos supplicate before a monolith in the forest, seeking for a way to warp their dreams and find a happier existence.

Still from The Warped Forest (2011)

BACKGROUND:

  •  Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005) was a surreal anthology film from three directors ( , Aniki, and ) with no real plot, although it was themed around the idea of alien contact. This spiritual sequel was made by , whose monstrous, -on-laughing-gas creature designs were arguably the most memorable part of the original.
  • Although Miki has a segment in another anthology film and some TV episodes to his credit, this is his sole solo feature. He mostly directs commercials; he saved the money he made over the years and spent his entire life savings to fund this film himself.
  • The Warped Forest only had a short festival run and was never released to cinemas in Japan or elsewhere. In 2022 it was released as the co-feature in the Funky Forest Blu-ray set.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Cute-as-a-button Fumi Nikaidô holding an ornately carved rifle, which charges up with an advancing series of lights and a crescendo of whirs when she grasps it and, when fully operational, flips the compartment in the barrel to reveal… a tiny wiener, which emits a thin stream of white fluid.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Hypertech jizz gun; genital fruit

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Shunichiro Miki melds the weirdly organic and the comically absurd into a singular pocket of dreamspace, presenting a completely personal and unduplicatable vision that is simultaneously shocking, angularly erotic, and heartwarming.


Original trailer for The Warped Forest (2011)

COMMENTS: In 2011, Shunichiro Miki released a short trailer for Continue reading 26*. THE WARPED FOREST (2011)

CAPSULE: AVALON (2001)

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DIRECTED BY: Mamoru Oshii

FEATURING: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupski

PLOT: Ash is a master solo-player in the illegal immersive game “Avalon” who risks brain-death in pursuit of the secret level known as “Special A.”

COMMENTS: Tanks rumble down the dilapidated streets of an Eastern European city center. Civilians scurry around frantically; partisans take aim at the lumbering metal beasts. One of these gun-toting figures stands out for her daring maneuvers. Artillery barrels blast, shots burst forth, and a number of figures are hit. They transform into two-dimensional renderings before shattering into thousands of polygonal shards. The lady fighter leaps a-top one of the tanks and… soon the mission is over. Ash awakens in a dingy room and removes her virtual reality head-set. She’s earned some cash from this lawbreaking, but more importantly she’s added to her legend. She is the reigning queen of Avalon.

What follows, to put it politely, is a bit of a dramatic letdown. When your dystopian future is washed in the same sepia and decay as the escapist game which acts as your dramatic vehicle, it helps to have some convincing characters to differentiate between the decrepit future and the decrepit whiz-bang tech. Mamorou Oshii is no stranger to science fiction, no stranger to compelling visuals, and no stranger to techno-cynicism. However, being shackled to in-the-flesh actors and materials-based set-pieces, he has lost his ability to adequately shape the world. It is no surprise that when he is playing with the (then) new CGI wizardry, he shines—a sequence involving a cannon-covered super fortress on wheels is stunning. It is perhaps a surprise, however, and certainly a letdown that the human actors driving the speculative narrative seem to have fewer dimensions than his literal two-dimensional animations.

Reality, morality, choice, perception, and the relationship between man, machine, and the virtual: these are all explored in Avalon, but are explored much better in other Mamorou Oshii films, not to mention the many other CGI/VR movies that arrived en mass in the early aughts. Avalon gets points for being a Polish addition to the genre (the director’s nationality not-with-standing), and for the polish of its look (it is yet another movie which adds up to far less than the sum of its single frames). But the stilted performances become impossible to overlook. There is a blast of beauty-cum-surrealism in the final scene, when Ash reaches the elusive hidden level within the game. For the first time, the film enjoys the full color spectrum, and a diegetic symphony underscores a dramatic encounter. Ultimately, though, Avalon suffers from its anchor to the real world, and acts merely as a reminder that some filmmakers best perform their amazing magic when not constrained by the laws of the mundane.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Neither an out-and-out actioner nor a fully realized study of the psychology of games-playing, pic is still reasonably diverting and has a curio value coming from Mamoru Ishii, director of cult Japanese anime ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995).”–Derek Elley, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: KOTOKO (2011)

コトコ

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DIRECTED BY: Shinya Tsukamoto

FEATURING: Cocco, Shinya Tsukamoto

PLOT: A young mother suffering from violent hallucinations loses custody of her son before a mild-mannered novelist enters her life.

COMMENTS: As my trip through Shinya Tsukamoto’s back-catalogue continues, my appreciation for his genius grows. Kotoko manages to be the most straightforward of his films while also being the most disturbing. There is no metal grafting, no superhuman violence, and, despite the narrator’s unreliability, the action is grounded in the mundane. The dark, harrowing side of the mundane. Perhaps not “weird” for our purposes (though it comes close), Kotoko stands out among the auteur’s typical work—and proves that Tuskamoto’s toolkit of perturbation extends far beyond his “typical” mechano-nihilistic visions.

We first meet Kotoko (J-Pop star “Cocco”) as she narrates how she sees “double”. At any moment Kotoko, may witness someone doing one thing—reading along with a toddler, say—only to see that person’s double as well, typically acting as a raging, violent id. She is aware of her condition, an affliction she can only ward off through song. Her sole motivation for enduring is her infant son. After a dramatic breakdown spurred by a child’s screams and spilled stir-fry, the boy is taken into her sister’s custody. Kotoko’s latent self-destructive tendencies worsen until she meets a quiet writer (Shinya Tuskamoto), who overhears her singing on a bus and decides to stalk her.

The first act is unsettling, the third act is nigh-on devastating. But the second—that’s where Kotoko is most bizarre. “What madness ensues?,” you ask. Amazingly, none. The film’s middle tranche is the “romantic comedy” filling of an otherwise dispiriting donut of a story. Cocco and Tsukamoto have a magical, socially inept chemistry. As a shy and somewhat bumbling literary celebrity, Tuskamoto adds “awkward romantic interest” to his acting arsenal (previously limited to “metal fetishist” and “emotionally benumbed salaryman”). During one of his stalking-visits, he fears the worst when Kotoko doesn’t answer her door, so he breaks in and finds her bleeding on her bathroom floor. Kotoko reaches almost mad-cap levels of silly dialogue and physical comedy as he charges back and forth between the bathroom and the place where she keeps the towels, always grabbing the wrong piece of fabric, while Kotoko patiently and bleedingly gestures and corrects him.

Had this continued, Kotoko would deserve a place amongst our esteemed, weird titles. That it does not isn’t a failure in filmmaking, of course, but a testament to the versatility of Tsukamoto. Instead, the rom-com provides the audience a much-needed breather between the setting up and knocking down of the titular heroine. Kotoko is something of a vanity project for the famous J-Pop star, but it is one of the oddest celebrity vehicles I’ve ever seen. Whether teary-eyed, widely smiling, writhing, singing, or dancing, Cocco exhibits a violent vulnerability not typically associated with mega-stars. With Tsukamoto, she finds the perfect technician to bring her vision to life; with Cocco, Tsukamoto gets to prove that whatever the story is, he can tell it–even if there aren’t any gears, cogs, or drill-bits.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…few films can claim to give such an uncompromising view of what it must be like to be crazy, as seen from the inside. Cronenberg’s ‘Videodrome’ comes to mind, or Polanski’s ‘Repulsion.’ Both of these films are not the easiest to watch, especially when seen for the first time, and ‘Kotoko’ is a lot like that.” -Ard Vijn, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

CAPSULE: LITTLE DEATHS (2011)

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DIRECTED BY: Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson,

FEATURING: Jodie Jameson, Luke de Lacey, Siubhan Harrison, Holly Lucas, Tom Sawyer, Kate Braithwaite

PLOT: Three anthologized shorts: a wealthy couple toys with a homeless girl, an ex-junkie and ex-prostitute joins a pharmaceutical trial, and a young couple’s sadomasochistic relationship turns sour.

Still from Little Deaths (2011)

COMMENTS: For weird purposes, we can dispose of two of the three sexually-charged horrors that make up Little Deaths quickly. The opener, “House & Home,” is a well-produced but obvious R-rated “Twilight Zone” thing where a couple who exploit homeless women find the tables turned. Even though you might not guess the exact details, the twist is something less than a surprise when it arrives. The closer, “Bitch,” is a bit more involving because of its depiction of unusual fetishes (canine roleplay among them) in the context of a very dysfunctional S&M relationship, and its exceptionally cruel ending. It’s essentially sleazy sex life portraiture, though with a climax that’s equal parts troubling and ridiculous.

That leaves the middle segment, “Mutant Tool,” which is indeed about as weird as its title suggests. The central character is Jen, a recovering junkie and ex-prostitute who’s finding it hard to go straight. Her drug-dealing boyfriend enrolls her in an experimental pharmaceutical treatment with a major side effect: she hallucinates about a strange man (or monster) hanging in a cage. The plot gradually brings an old Nazi experiments and a develops a cyclical pharmaceutical ecosystem somewhat reminiscent of the one in Upstream Color (2013) (if less rigorously developed). The film is visually murky, with only brief glimpses of the dingy mutant behind a face shield and a shower curtain, though the restrained imagery can be effective—and there is one WTF closeup that is both creepy and sort of funny.  The exposition can be a bit clumsy: Jen keeps taking calls from her escort agency, even though she claims to be no longer working for them, just so we can sense the pressure she’s under. And there’s a crusty old caretaker character who keeps coming up with excuses to volunteer mutant backstory to a trainee. Plus, it seems like an awfully bad idea for Frank to refer Jen to Dr. Reese, considering the ghoulish nature of his prior dealings with the physician. Still, if you can overlook those narrative shortcuts, “Mutant Tool” has a strong and weird conceit, and also has the only likeable characters in the triptych—Jen and Frank are lowlifes, sure, but they’re at least trying to escape from the horror rather than hurtling into it like the others.

Although perversity abounds throughout, and “Mutant Tool” perks some interest for seekers of the eerie, none of Little Deaths offerings are essential shock-horror. But at thirty minutes each, none of them outstay their welcome, either.

Little Deaths has been accused of misogyny, and although there’s some basis for the charge (e.g. the uncomfortable verbal lingering over a rape scene), it’s overblown in general. In Little Deaths, people are simply cruel to one another, and males are victims as much as females. The one exception might be that final episode, Rumley’s provocatively-titled “Bitch,” which invites (though doesn’t demand) the misogyny-minded to identify with its emasculated antihero. To their credit, the directors do anticipate these charges and address them in a series of interviews included on the DVD—although Parkinson has nothing to answer for, and Rumley glibly dismisses the objection with a shrug.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…three tales of the strange, the weird, and the fantastic… ‘Mutant Tool’ is Andrew Parkinson’s way-strange contribution… [‘Mutant Tool’] is some pretty weird and (to use the word yet again) ‘dark’ stuff, made all the more so by being played as straight drama…  LITTLE DEATHS as a whole is pleasantly unsettling and worth watching for horror fans on the lookout for something different.”–Porfle Popnecker, “HK and Cult Film News” (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Donatien,” who qualified his recommendation: “i don’t think all three short films can be classified as weird, only the 3rd one.” Maybe he misremembered the order of the tales? Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)