The Wind Rises (2013)

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Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

My favourite thing about ‘The Wind Rises’ is the sound effects. The ghastly whooshing sound the devastating earthquake makes, the sound of the group ripping apart. A fire roars through the town, pushed by an ominous wind. The animation itself is peerless, classic Miyazaki, detailed and magnificent, but the sound. I hadn’t had my ears tingled so much in the cinema. I’m not big on Studio Ghibli, I’ve caught a few of Miyazaki’s films, admired the beauty and cleverness, but I never listened properly. The film scores high on sound alone.

The Wind Rises’ tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a pioneering engineer who designed planes; several of his blueprints were manufactured into fighter planes for the Japanese war effort during the Second World War. For all the WW2 stereotypes of the Japanese military as kamikazes and sadists, the film reveals the finesse and ingenuity that enabled the country to recover from the cost of war. The film ends at a key point, and Horikoshi’s cartoon self doesn’t get to reflect upon the devastation caused by his death machines for all that long. Horikoshi in real life didn’t see the war as being beneficial for Japan, and four years before it ended predicted that participating in the war would be catastrophic to the Land of the Rising Sun.

As a short-sighted speccy I related to the young Jiro having his dreams dashed, he can’t be a pilot because he can see for millimetres rather than miles, but he comes to believe that he can be the best God damn aircraft designer on the planet. His idol is Giovanni Caproni, the Italian designer, and Jiro meets him in his dreams. Together the master and the apprentice jump aboard elaborate zeppelin bi-plane flying fortresses and have wonderful conversations.

The film jumps quickly into Jiro’s later teenage years at Tokyo University. Whilst on board a train an earthquake hits, it’s really a harrowing scene, Miyazaki’s recreation of a natural hell. There’s a love story that emerges from the ruins, Jiro falls for Naoko, a girl who he helped during the quake. Naoko is bed ridden by tuberculosis, and whilst Jiro continues to pursue his career as a plane designer she spends time recuperating in hospital. Though he loves Naoko, there’s conflict, because Jiro is also a man in love with his dreams. Whilst Naoko lies beside him, he holds her hand, and using his free hand he sketches through the night. Feeling a little stressed, he begins to smoke a cigarette, next door to the woman who he loves with chronic tuberculosis.

Nit-picking aside the film is a triumph, a delight. It manages to make aircraft engineering exhilarating. ‘The Wind Rises’ is playing in Picture House cinemas up and down the UK. Treat yourself to an overpriced cappuccino served by a disinterested film student and marvel at this movie.

– RJW
8/10

The Wind Rises on IMDB

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RoboGeisha (2009)

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Directed by: Niboru Iguchi

I’ve only just realised that I really hate low budget films that knowingly aim for cult status. I want good stories that are told on shoe string budgets, wonky scenery and fluffed lines. I want the genuinely bad, because it was unintentionally genuinely bad, not the “we’re being too clever for our own good” school of cult film making that knowingly makes a film bad. You know, the kind of directors who create buzz worthy set pieces that will be made into endlessly recycled Gif’s or feature in short videos put together by smart aleck’s with too much time on their hands (yes, even more time than it takes to write a movie review). The ridiculousness of acidic breast milk being fired from rubber nipples or shuriken’s being shooting out of somebody’s bottom. Lowest common denominator humour permeates RoboGeisha and means the film ends up becoming a campy mix of the more risqué elements of the ‘Carry On’ films alongside fights scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in ‘The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’. I hope you now have a mental image of Barbara Windsor in the pink ranger outfit.

The opening of the film isn’t half bad. It’s nonsensical but you have to go with it. A politician gets attacked by a robot, she splits in half and not one put two assassins appear from her body, Russian doll style. Then Yoshie the RoboGeisha turns up to save the day. Arse kicking karate kicking chicks deliver powerful lines like “You touch my tits and frankly they’ll be a hole in your face”. It’s almost a modern take on Clark Gable’s classic line in ‘Gone with the Wind’. After taking care of the sinister threat Yoshie asks herself “What am I? A robot or a geisha?”

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We then learn the origin story of the RoboGeisha, which begins in sibling rivalry. Yoshie is bullied at home by her older sister Kikue. Despite being incessant picked on she still loves her older sister. The pair are headhunted and then coerced into training as assassins for the evil Kageno Steel Corporation run by a malevolent Father and Son duo. The sisters are made to fight each other during one training drill, and Yoshie humiliates Kikue. Both end up getting mechanical implants to enhance their fighting skills, but whereas Kikue is all in when it comes to working for Kageno, Yoshie gets her head turned by a renegade group who tell her they’ve had family members kidnapped by the Corporation. The group make Yoshie aware about Kageno’s terrorist plans. Yoshie then faces a race against time to prevent a bomb getting dropped on Mount Fuji.

‘RoboGeisha’ isn’t a film suitable for any kind of deep critical analysis. You aren’t supposed to take it seriously, it’s one of those films that you tell your friends about, but not in the “you’ve got to see this because it’s brilliant” in an ironic way, but “for Christ’s sake watch this before the joke isn’t funny anymore”.

Since I’m a grouch, I didn’t really enjoy ‘RoboGeisha’ that much; the laughs all came in the opening scene. After that point I then became irritated and watched the rest of the movie with my arms folded, stuck in silence. There was not even a hint of a smile on my face as buildings bled, baddies got shrimps stuck in their eyes and Yoshie turned into a tank.

4/10

Robogeisha on IMDB

Visitor Q (2001)

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Directed by: Takashi Miike

I was reading about Xiu Xiu releasing their latest Music Video on a popular pornographic video sharing website, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to view the said video and saw cute kittens and plenty of the usual content that you might find on such a den of smut. I didn’t make it through the whole video, and for some reason clicking the cross and closing my browser, consumed by self-disgust I began thinking about a Japanese film someone had recommended me a few years ago that I could only watch the first few minutes of before thinking to myself “this is too much”. ‘Visitor Q’ was the name of the movie and I remember that opening scene was decidedly Gonzo, the kind of Sunday morning video you’d watch to get your fix and release some stress. It was pornographic.

It could be said that ‘Visitor Q’ was many years ahead of the curve, way before Lars Van Trier brought pornography to mainstream cinema. ‘Visitor Q’ begins with a question – have you ever done it with you Dad? In a dingy hotel room a Japanese man is bargaining with a prostitute. The scene is all the more claustrophobically disturbing because it is shot on hand held cameras by the participants. It feels grimy and voyeuristic. The man pays one hundred thousand yen act for ten minutes of sex. The prostitute turns out to be his daughter. Second time around I feel the same. Yuck, I feel dirty watching this.

The next question we are asked is – have you ever been hit on the head? This precedes a scene where the man who slept with his daughter is waiting at a train station. A spiky haired lad wearing a red shirt comes along and smacks him on the head with a rock. The third question – have you ever hit your Mom? We are then treated to the sight of a teenage boy whipping his heroin addicted Mother.

No more questions are asked, because from this point things take several turns for the weird. ‘Visitor Q’ is provocative and disturbing, a real test of endurance. Takashi Miike dares you to tap out, to switch off, to walk away. The film is a gruelling feat of endurance that you watch through your fingers, but it is impossible not to watch.

The man, the prostitute, the heroin addicted Mother and the sadistic son are a family. The lad in the red shirt stays at the home. Miike asks us. What would it be like to walk into someone’s door and observe the true goings on? Imagine picking a random house down the road where you live. You walk in through the front door and observe with sociological curiosity. What you see is the uncomfortable reality of people’s private lives. Essentially what Miike is telling us is that most families are fucked up. Of course he does this to the extreme.

Though some consider ‘Visitor Q’ as a black comedy, I was disturbed by the fact that I found the vinegar bathtub scene (I won’t spoil it) laugh out loud funny. I wondered what this said about me.

Films like this need to be watched at the right time. I was eating a lump of mature cheddar during the lactating nipples scene and almost vomited. You really need to take a deep breath, clear ninety minutes out of your schedule and just sit and stare, gawp open mouthed and allow yourself to be stunned. ‘Visitor Q’ makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a rock. It wakes you up, revolts you and then somehow surprises you with a happy ending that will melt even the coldest of hearts.

– RJW

Visitor Q on IMDB