Friday, August 25, 2006

M.A.R.K. in the Dust: or why you should be watching Richard Stanley more often

I have this nasty habit.

A friend of mine likes giving me DVD's. I like giving him DVD's too, but being a po' boy I do it far less. I'm a bastard, but he seems to forgive me. But what he should be mad at me for is which disks I actually watch first. There's usually something retarded I lunge at first - a hacked-together D'amato film or a lame Bava giallo or censored tentacle porn - and I end up not watching the actual GOOD films for weeks, sometimes months at a time. The worst example of this was when he gave me Oldboy: I had the DVD, watched about 20 minutes, had to do something else and put it back on the shelf. I literally waited about 6 months before going "oh, crap... I need to finish that. It looked good."

Good? OLDBOY was a fucking masterpiece, and I could have watched the bastard... at which point I immediately watched Chanwook's SYMPATHY FOR MISTER VENGANCE the next night. Ironic, since Oldboy is the follow-up in his revenge trilogy, but whatever. The fact remains that sometimes, I get sidetracked, and that side-tracking sometimes gets in the way of me wanking off to excellent films.

While a lot of things in my life - work, moving and all - have kept me from enjoying movies on a regular basis, those days appear gone. For a while at least. And I can finally catch up on the stuff I ignored for far too long... and after the dissapointing KAIRO crapfest, it was with a little bit of hesitation that I picked up my copy of M.A.R.K 13, released in the states edited as HARDWARE. Directed by a one Richard Stanley, a bastard who was fired off of his own version of THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU through little to no fault of his own. A man who's fans worship him... so screw it, enough with the fanfare. Time to watch one of them.

Do you hear that sound, my friend? It's me kicking myself in the ass. Pure and simple, both M.A.R.K 13 and DUST DEVIL, films from 1990 and '92 respectively, are masterpieces. They're difficult to categorize, and almost impossible to explain or describe accurately, but I'll try my best anyhow.

M.A.R.K 13 is, at it's basest level, a "Robot Gone Haywire" movie. One that literally rips imagery from popular 80's Sci-Fi movies - Mad Max, Terminator, Blade Runner, Predator, hell even 2001: A Space Odyssey serves as templates for the action that unfolds in this post-apocalyptic future in which politicians are working to eradicate normal human birth due to dehibilitating radiation induced birth defects. Among the survivors in this crummy existance are Moses; a soldier for the intergalactic army of an unnamed country, his girlfriend Jill who builds pieces of art from scraps of the old world, his tripping soul-searching buddy Shades and other likable, unique, and only slightly stereotypical characters running around in the radioactive deserts or living in their dark and cramped appartments with brutal news footage and music video's assaulting what little numbed senses remain to them. The fun begins when, selling scrap to a local junk dealer, Moses buys parts of a broken down robot... a robot that turns out to be a prototype for a secret government project.

Based on a comic book, the film begins as almsot typical B-movie schlock and raises above it's clearly low budget status quickly with no small amount of visual style, layers of religious symbolism (the title "Mark 13" also refers to a biblical quote; look it up you heidonistic bastards!), and a lot of clever know-how going on just behind camera. While the film will never be mistaken for a multi-million dollar epic, it manages to be GOOD Science Fiction, something that rarely happens in today's world where the future and all of it's wonderous inventions is yours to pre-order using Paypal you got for selling useless crap on eBay, where you can molest fat old men pretending to be children and have mayonaise coated pizza delivered with little more than a click of a few buttons. The future is now, and short of the part where the government starts intalling chips in to our heads, there isn't much to look to the future for anymore. This doesn't stop the occasional film maker from creating something wild and unexpected in a Sci-Fi mold (see MEATBALL MACHINE), but far and wide, Sci-Fi is either epic fantasy with lightsabers instead of swords or re-hashed ideas written out in the 1950's. While M.A.R.K 13 isn't original per se - I already mentioned 5 films it's borrowed concepts from, and I didn't even bring up the Suspiria inspired lighting scheme! - it uses each of those concepts as only a piece of it's bigger puzzle, leading to one of the funniest/most depressing bits delivered by none other than Iggy Pop that I can remember.

Did I not mention that punk legend Iggy Pop and Lemmy from the proto-metal band MOROTHEAD are in the film? Shame on me then. But really, their inclusion is well hidden, for lack of a better explanation: Iggy appears in voice only, and Lemmy as the music loving cab driver is a small role when all is said and done. Their inclusion will make losers like me cheer, but their cameo's are both helpful to the story and paced as if they were cast by a totally random character; in short, they're cameo's used responsibly, and that Lemmy's scene doesn't even let "Ace of Spades" play out proves that Stanley's not just a fanboy exploiting oppurtunities to use gods of the music I'm assuming he loves. Well, not over-exploiting them anyway.

What's equally important though, is that even when the film stops trying to be an exciting game of cat and mouse, it's got some great surreal and clearly intentional moments of surrealism going for it. Not only does the post-industrial appartment complex with locking doors and red lights inspire images of a sort of hellish hair band music video left-overs, but it works much to the film's positive attribute in that... hang on:

SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!!!!! it?

...while Moses is "alive", he exists in a world of red light, a literal living hell. It's only when he's poisoned by M.A.R.K 13's poison and seees the hunched skeletal robot sitting at a computer concole that the film allows the first rays of beautiful blue light to streak down on to the dark walls and beyond. M.A.R.K 13 is a killer, an unstoppable machine without remorse or care... but he's bringing the dying race of man to a better place. The literal post-industrial image of the Grim Reaper, his presence pushes the image of cheesy 80's veneer away to leave the world as the cold, dead, emotionless wreck that it is. Perhaps this is my simple hatred for the majority of the superficially retarded and homosexual 1980's kicking in, but I truly believe that M.A.R.K 13, while an enemy of man, is nothing more than a messanger of God bringing the damned to let their inevitable suffering end once and for all. This may not have been Stanley's intent whatsoever, but it's one I find intriguing as all hell if true.

Unfortunately, actually watching M.A.R.K 13 is in and of itself something of a torture test. With the only DVD available being the pan-scan release from Laser Paradise, a German studio known for it's bargain-bin quality DVD's, the print they used for the disc was clearly a none-too-pretty laserdisc who's overblown colors turn the red lighting, which may have looked fantastic on 35mm film, in to a crawling and fuzzy mess where you literally can't tell what the hell's going on half the time. That the transfer was pan-scanned certainly doesn't help. At least the original 2.0 English track (as well as a new 5.1 mix) was included, and it's the fully uncensored version as opposed to the trimmed R-Rated print. Thank crap for small favors though, right? Pan-scan and fuzzy M.A.R.K 13 is certainly better than no M.A.R.K 13 at all.

What makes M.A.R.K 13 so damned good? I'm not 100% sure. It might be the way that a story that could easily have become a goofy B-movie for the ages is taken seriously all the way through, and absolutely nothing is treated as a throw-away sequence or concept. The film is, in and of itself, a masterpiece of low budget origins, something there are suprisingly few of in the world. The film shows us a few of Stanley's personal fetishes - particularly that of spirritualism in the form of Shades, a man who despite being out of his head on radioactive mushrooms is still meditating and seeking enlightment of... one sort or another - and a generally Easterh aesthetic, with a lovely Chinese style dining room thrown in for no obvious reason than it looks amazingly cool bathed in the red light of choice. If there was anything to complain of, it might well be the titular robot, who though he looks awesome in design - the American Flag skull is a less than subtle symbol of the film's general politics, and while he is basically a robotic chicken he carries himself with a sense of badass mutha' that's matched only by the Terminator's chrome endoskeleton - is castrated somewhat by the film's lack of budget, which turns him in to a mostly static puppet with limited motion. They try to hide the limitations as best they can, but M.A.R.K 13 as a force of destruction suffers only slightly for it. Those red focusing lens-eyes alone are creepy enough signature to make the Angel of Death work as a scary bastard.

So, I was suprised enough by the awesome-ness of Stanley's film that I decided to watch his follow-up DUST DEVIL very shortly thereafter. Let it be said that on September 26th, a 4 DVD/CD Soundtrack Ultimate Edition of Dust Devil is coming out for a mere $30 (which is about $21 at Amazon). If you have any faith in me, any at all, you will buy that set. Or else a demon will kick your ass and cut off your fingers. Seriously.

So what the hell is Dust Devil about? Well, in Namibia, an American drifter is hitch-hiking through the desert. He keeps finding pretty young women to give him rides. He seduces them... and once he's through, kills them, mutilates their bodies, and leaves voodoo spells on the walls of their home/hotel room before he burns it to the ground and continues on his merry way. A local cop who's lost everything else (his son having died in a liberating war 15 years ago, his wife having left him once her precious son left this world) investigates what he assumes was a simple crazy murder case, and after seeing the voodoo themed slaying with his own eyes, he enlists a local shaman for help... meanwhile, a woman who's sick of her overbearing husband leaves South Africa on a journey of self discovery, only to wind up with a charming American in her passengar's seat...

Saying too much more about Dust Devil would almost be doing the film a great disservice. Much like, say, the Japanese horror film RING(U), it walks the line between horror and drama very swiftly, only offering moments of time that make us unsure if Hitch, the lovable drifter psycho killer, is anything more than a man with some deep rooted issues until well in to the film's runtime. The first time we see him at night in the flash of headlights, he's a bestial, inhuman monster... but the shot literally only lasts for a second, and then he's the handsome bastard we're used to thus far once again. Is Hitch really a monster? Is it just in Wendy's head? Or does the shaman Saarke know far more than our jaded officer Joe believes? Half of what makes Dust Devil amazing is slowly learning what is and isn't the real deal, the intense pace of the 107 minute flick flying by like it was nothing. It's hard to really put Dust Devil in to a single genre; there are elements of Horror, of Drama, of Surrealism, of Spirritualism, and even of old school Spaghetti Western's for good measure in the final reel. While it would be almost too easy saying the film is inspired by the legendary EL TOPO, it's hard to not bring it up; both films take what are tried and true genre's and turn them upside down, giving the flavors of the western genre a surreal and unique experience that can't literally be described as anything else I can think of. Truth be told, M.A.R.K 13 is closer to El Topo than this film is, if only because Dust Devil exists in the "real world" of Namibia's 1980's. IZO is closer to El Topo... but Izo's another matter entirely, and the last thing I need to do is bring up Miike when I'm trying to lick Stanley's balls.

Dust Devil was never cut specifically for the MPAA, but Miramax - who also held the rights to HARDWARE upon it's R-rated release - decided that a 107 minute film was just too long to maximize profits at the box office, and thus trimmed the US theatrical version to no less than 87 minutes. That's right, 20 minutes of story and explanation just... gone. Mercifully, the German DVD - though transfered in PAL speed, making it run closer to 103 minutes - is indeed Richard Stanley's "Final Cut". It also looks worlds better than the M.A.R.K 13 DVD, even though both were taken from PAL Laserdiscs; the transfer is letterboxed to 1.85:1, has a sharp and naturally grainy look to it, and has bright bold colors; if a bit over-cranked on the contrast, resulting in white robes and clouds having a sort of odd neon-glow appearance. Compared to M.A.R.K 13 the Laser Paradise DVD of Dust Devil is positively breath-taking, but I don't for a moment believe that it'll be so much as a fart in the wind once the Subversive Cinema Ultimate Edition comes out this September.

It's a shame that what would have been the follow-up to Dust Devil, THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, turned in to a clusterfuck the likes of which I've rarely even imagined could exist; after perfecting his script for 4 long years, he was fired after a mere 3 days between a horrendous shooting schedule putting him right in the middle of the rainy season, Marlon Brando's failing health and Val Kilmer's douchebaggery having put the poor bastard in such a bad spot that he didn't really have a chance at convincing studios that the film was going to work. It's a shame; I remember the film being an interesting disaster of awesome special effects and shoddy acting the likes of which I'd not really seen before. And I made that judgement at about the age of 15. Richard Stanley, like most wonderfully insane film makers, is willing to put his neck on the block to get something that must be made, made. Unfortunately his adaptation of a story he truly loved blew up in his face and damaged his reputation with "big" movie studios to a point where he's instead been creating documentaries on spirituality, the holy grail, and nazi's. Yep', Stanley's an all around awesome guy, and I can't wait to see some of those documentaries on the big Dust Devil set.

So, there you have it; Richard Stanley is a fucking god, and I'm a moron for hot having watched his films for so long. Same thing happened to poor Park Chan-wook, and it's something I really, really need to stop doing.*

*I actually watched these films and wrote this article about a week ago. Internet troubles suck, don't they?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Decapitating the Dhampir Hunter

They cut off D's head.

Seriously, Vampire Hunter D - despite being animated and edited exclusively on film, was created as an OVA. Which means it was intended to be seen on video on a 1980's Japanese TV set. Clearly amazing AKIRA level animation was never quite the goal of this production, but what's important is the ratio it was shot in. Created to be released on video, the film was clearly shot for a square 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The German studio OVA Films, in their infinite wisdom, decided that nobody has old square TV's anymore. EVERYBODY owns those kick-ass widescreen 16:9 TV's with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (even though the majority of consumers - in America and Europe - don't yet). So what did those hip mother fuckers do? They chopped 30% of the picture off of the top and bottom so that Vampire Hunter D looks bitchin' filling up your $10,000 plasma. Screw artistic integrity when you have new technology to fuck it up on!

To be fair, this is far from a new problem. In the anime world specifically, the Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal (aka SAMURAI X... wtf?) OVA's were actually cut together in to a 2 hour movie and matted to non-anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen to match their sequel series. Urotsukidoji OVA 12 has been matted to roughly 1.78:1 widescreen for every single one of it's DVD releases worldwide - US, Japanese, UK, French and what have you - and the German edition is so awesome it crops episodes 10 and 11 too! And my personal favorite is the Anniversary Edition of Ninja Scroll. Now, much like Vampire Hunter D, Jubei Ninpouchuu (the original title... what damned scroll is Manga talking about?) was an OVA made in the days of boxy non-HD TV's. So Mangle Entertainment is nice enough to give us the fullscreen version on Side B, and includes an anamorphic version on Side A. But, here's the funny part: Manga didn't do a new telecine for the anamorphic version. So there's absolutely no more detail in the widescreen version than there is the fullscreen version, which is the whole point of anamorphic encoding! The inclusion of the widescreen print of Ninja Scroll is literally the single most pointless things I can think of... and to prove it, here's some booty!


So, there's your ass quota for the day. Once you're done mopping up various bodily fluids, note that while the fullscreen version has sharp details on the snakes and crisp outlines in this lady's fine hindquarters, the widescreen version is in comparison very fuzzy and doesn't feature any more apparent detail. In short, this "anamorphic" version gives the very format a bad name, and is exactly the kind of bullshit that makes me want to bitch slap the people at Manga Entertainment. All this having been said, I WILL admit that they were smart enough to include both versions, so that the widecreen version "exists" is no skin off my ballsac. It's just frustrating that so much time and money would be wasted on it instead of more extras or a lower price tag. Gotta' love those cigar smoking rollerskating chimps at Manga Entertainment.

So, widescreen = teh suck on fullscreen films, right? This won't be the first time a fullscreen film is matted to fill a TV set without justification: The Evil Dead was clearly never meant to be shown in widescreen (regardless of the fact that Sam Raimi was clearly intending to get the film shown in theatres), Return of the Living Dead 3 was a direct to video release despite it's anamorphic (and R-rated!) US edition, and - screw DVD for a second - the Venice premier of A Snake in June was in widescreen... even seeing a moment of it that way made me shudder and shake my head in disgust. While plenty of films WERE intended to be shown in widescreen despite their fullscreen origins - Black Chrismas, Terminator 2, Manhunt, Cannibal Holocaust, A Fish Called Wanda, The Princess Bride, Full Metal Jacket, and so many others - snipping the top and bottom from a film that was meant to be shown in fullscreen is no better than a pan-scan version of a movie shot in widescreen.

So... here's why the difference between the Widescreen and Fullscreen version of Vampire Hunter D is such a painful thing for me to choose between:


It should be noted that the "official" Kentai transfer I was so goddamn proud of is currently under evaluation. I still think the OVA Films transfer is too goddamn bright, but I also think - now that I have something to compare it to - that the Japanese DVD is just way too... blue. Like the red levels are undersaturated for some weird reason. Probably because Red usually bleeds the worst on composite transfers and the technitians who made this telecine 20+ years ago tried their damndest to minimise the damage that old-fashioned composite data is prone to. A nice trick to keep it from bleeding like a bastard... but it doesn't exactly make the grass look greener this side of the OVA Films transfer.

Oh yeah - the full-screen shot is from the Japanese DVD without any Kentai TMPGEnc magic applied to it yet. So that's now how my DVD will look, per se; I'm just trying to show how wildly different these two prints are. Just look at the deep red in D's collar and the green grass and black sky on that German screencap... the colors are beautiful. You can also see a lot more detail in the trees and mountains behind D - open them both in new tabs or windows or whatever and click back and fourth between the two so you can see just how much more detail there is. This is exactly why even old cheap cel animation in High Definition would kick ass... and unfortunately, why I worry that old fullscreen prints will be butchered like so for the good of technology.

I also chose this shot to make my argument that this film being cropped doesn't help it. Some scenes look OK cropped, truth be told... but here, D's head AND feet mysteriously dissapear. Weak, OVA Films. If only they had the foresight to make a telecine from the same master in fullscreen and make the German release a 2 DVD set with both then every single D hard-on posessing fan would own it. But no, Germany has issues when it comes to releasing anime on DVD for some retarded reason.

So, what am I do do when I have an ugly fullscreen master and a gorgeous widerscreen master? While I refuse to retract my above "chimp" statement, I'm going to follow Manga's example and release the best of both worlds. While I wouldn't watch the amazing-yet-cropped master as anything but a show-off piece or a curiosity, it -is- a beautiful transfer. No rainbows, no dot crawl, natural film grain, far less artifacts... I CAN'T say it's perfect, missing 30% of the image, but it's the best looking film to DVD work done for Vampire Hunter D yet.

It's just a goddamn shame they forgot to transfer the whole thing.

UPDATE (08/23): Here's a comparison between the Japanese DVD, German DVD and my own personal concoction: tell me what you think, will 'ya?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

DVD-9: The Second Coming of Boneheaded Bootlegging

As usual, I'm wasting time on projects that won't make me a dime rather than focusing on doing something useful. Now I have been making menu's and learning how to make the menu editor in DVD Maestro do what -I- want it to do... but let's just say Maestro isa sort of one way relationship and leave it at that. KAZE TO KI NO UTA is so fucking close to done that I just no longer give a rat's ass if the menu's look perfect. This disk has taken well over a year due to hardware issues and my own incompitence, but things are looking up for this nearly 20 year old VHS sourced beauty.

There is a laserdisc... but I've never seen one for sale, so the VHS will have to do for fans. Hey, if one of them can go "look! I have an LD" I'll buy it from them and do a remaster. See? That's what we call a bluff-because-we-know-better. Like John Sirabella saying he'd remaster A Lizard in a Woman's Skin if a watchable uncensored/widescreen print was available. There isn't, so he doesn't have to. Short of someone finding a chewed-up 35mm print from the early 70's, Lizard is going to be seen in fullscreen in semi-watchable quality or in widescreen on nth generation Greek (I assume) tape bootlegs. Yeah... a washed out 3rd gen VHS from 1984 is teh best master evah, I'm tellin' ya'.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah; the Kaze LD. Seen a cover, but it's rarer than fuck, so the VHS master is what you get. That's what happens sometimes, I'm afraid.

But the things that won't make me money; in this case, it was the series Adventure Kid. Ever seen the US DVD? It's the most unwatchable piece of shit to ever slide down Anime 18's butt crack. I don't blame A18, per se; it's clear that the master they had was pretty fux0red. There's an odd sort of digital banding issue in every single shot that looks like they were given a damaged DV tape or... something. I dunno' the exact details. I just know the US DVD is the most farking hideous thing they've ever done. Considering Urotsukidoji 3 was mastered from a so-so PAL UK master and then all 3+ hours were compressed to hell to fit on to a single DVD-9, that's no small feat. So my partner in crime bought the Japanese DVD's and sent me the first volume so I could compare them.

The R2, naturally, rapes the visual hell out of the fugly US DVD. With almost no composite rainbows, better image clarity and a more mellow, accurate color hue to every scene the R2 looks about as good as Adventure Kid - a very low budget show by Maeda standards from 1993, and one that doesn't suddenly get more money at episode 3 like Demon Beast Invasion did - likely ever could look on DVD. The R2's are also about 2.6 gigs a piece... which led me to do some math and figure the entire series would be under 8.5 gigs in total. Which just happens to be the size of a single dual-layer DVD+R DL.

Now it should be noted that nobody - and I mbean NOBODY - who sells DVD-R bootlegs has ever sold on dual layer media. There are a lot of reasons for this. The first is that, until very recently, these bastards could cost $5 and upwards per disk, whereas a compitent brand of DVD-/+R was a dollar or less. Another reason is that nobody really knew how to burn a "proper" DVD+R DL since only Nero really supported it, and Nero is a total piece of fecal matter when it comes to burning DVD-Video. (Fine for data though.) The secret is simple; create the DVD image in DVD-Lab, or Maestro or TMPGEnc DVD Author or whatever, and then create/burn an ISO using ImageTool and DVD Dectypter together - the best DVD ripping and burning software EVER. (Shame the latter was bought out and desposed of, but google is your friend, believe me.) So with that out of the way... there's still the cost thing. A good DVD-R from Taiyo Yuden can be had for about 40 cents. A good DVD+R DL from Verbatim costs around $3 minimum. Carry the 3.. yeah, pricey in comparison ain't the little bastards? This is why all bootleggers - who hold Cannibal King (and Damaged Dog - cool guy, that Damaged Dog) as a sort of ideal as to what the boot should be like - have never switched to DL. You can sell a 2 DVD set that includes all the extras and (slightly) compress the film for $1 worth of material, or keep the film on a DVD-9 and tripple the overall cost - moreso if the film AND extras are each a DVD-9's worth of data.

It's also hard enough to guarantee that all DVD-R's will play on every DVD player... factor in the dual-layer equation and your likelyhood of playback drop from something like 96% to 82%, something along those lines. NOT good odds if you don't like refunding people for unplayable DVD's.

But I like to think of myself as progressive. I release cartoon gay kid rape porn, I'm not above remastering controversial films people are more than happy with shit versions of, and hopefully before the end of the year I may well be the first bastard on eBay and beyond to bootleg on printable DVD+R DL.

All this having been said, not every disk NEEDS a DL. The R2 of Wicked City is a DVD-9 (which I'm likely going to remaster in the forseeable future, depending on how well a certain "other" 80's anime does...), with about half the disk allocated to the film, the rest to the extras. Cheaper to produce, no quality loss, and best of all I can market it as a "2 DVD special edition". Win-win, right? Same with Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman, The Ghost in the Shell and plenty of other films I'm interested in releasing in the future. The arguments -for- dual-layer releases see, pretty limp for films where the film is only 5 gigs or less... so let's look at another film that, in my crazy opinion, really needs some love: Zebraman. You ever seen the Cannibal King DVD? I have. It's non-anamorphic, 2.0, and is absolutely crawling with mosquito noise ("digital grain" from low bitrates). It's great to see the film at all, but come on CK, you can do better and we all know it. (I could also say a few things about his AWESOME presentation of IZO... but that's available on R1, so I'll just let it go.)

I'm not bringing Zebraman up specifically to say that I plan on taking down CK's empire; not only is that pretty much impossible with the fanbase he's aquired over the years, but his focus is on old samurai and yakuza films with the occasional "big" Japanese movie to keep him in business. I focus on movies I like - just as he does - rather than whatever is the most controversial or hip film from the land of the rising sun. (I like Miike films; that others do isn't a bad thing. But I'd be willing to do a totally tits DVD-9 version of AGITATOR or ZEBRAMAN wither I'd get a dime for it or not. Considering that most Miike fans in America want GOZU and ICHI THE KILLER more than his family films I'm willing to bet I wouldn't profit in the slightest.) I refuse to believe any other bastard on the planet is dumb enough to do a remastered version of Adventure Kid, let alone offer it to the public who probably doesn't like the show/give much of a damn how it looks if it's still censored. Hey, kinda' guy I am.

The other reason to start mastering my new DVD's as DL's is simple: the price is going to start dropping. Why? HD-DVD and Blu-Ray drives are already appearing on the consumer market. For the cost of a BD-RW drive and the blank BD-R's you could buy about 6 hard drives with more storage, but as they get cheaper and more user-friendly (as DVD burners did), the price of DVD+R DL's will drop. CD-R's are pennies a piece, and dropped once DVD-R's increased storage space seemed like the logical way to go. 3 times the price for 6 times the space? DVD-R versus CD-R was simply a no-brainer. And DVD recordable's will get much the same way before too long. While a DL blank is in the $3-5 dollar range soon, it'll probably be in the $2-4 in a year's time at the latest, and when you factor in that you buy them buy the spindle of 10 or 50 a piece, a dollar per disk really adds up. I've always focused on creating high-quality DVD's, wither it's for the market or just to watch and, y'know. Enjoy. So why should I make anyone buying my shit suffer? If it's easier (if not cheaper) to sell Urotsukidouji 3: Mirai-Hen on a pair of DL's than it is on a set of 4 -R's, why the hell shouldn't I? Quality is better than quantity, but I'd much rather stuff a double case than spend just as much money buying those flimy quad-cases. Plus I could include an -R version of the movie... but, I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Now, would I release Sakuya Youkai-den (a personal favorite fantasy film) on a DL? That's a tough one. On the one hand, it'd be great to keep the DTS track and Japanese commentary - even if I have no plans to actually subtitle it, it should be there goddamn it. On the other hand... Sakuya is a film I doubt I'd sell more than 10 copies of in a year, and perhaps more importantly, who buying low budget Japanese fantasy films is picky about how awesome their DTS tracks? Hell, if THE THING has already been announced for an HD-DVD release (yay!) and if Grindhouse call sell out of their limited Cannibal Holocaust ultimate edition in less than a month, maybe fans of what's essentially an awesomely goofy Japanese remake of BUFFY with musical numbers involving 1960's muppets will show the DTS track more love than I assume they will.

So, will Adventure Kid be the first Kentai DL DVD? Beats the crap out of me. It just seems ideal in terms of what I want to put on the disk, and reminds me that this is a very new and untapped market. There's usually a reason for that... but only time (and my obvious insanity) will ever tell.

Back to working on a DVD that probably -will- sell a few copies.

Oh, and as far as Agitator goes... the UK edition claims to be anamorphic with a DTS 5.1 track. I believe them on both counts, but the DTS track is clearly a worthless last minute upmix, and knowing that the "anamorphic" version of JUNK available in the UK is simply the old non-anamorphic DV master upconverted, I'm not sure how good this TARTAN! (uh-oh...) print will actually look. Unfortunately, it and the difficult to find Russian DVD are the only non-VHS sourced prints available, and with no one in the US interested in Miike's 150 minute director's cut... well, I'm not quite sure what to do with this gritty masterpiece.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Check that PULSE... "J-Horror" is dead.

Funny thing happened today: I sat down to watch the 2001 Japanese film KAIRO (Circuit, more commonly known as Pulse) the same day it's American remake hit theatres. I never stopped to buy it, I shrugged indifferently when the remake was announced, and not having a dime to my name I decided, hell, I'll stay home and watch those few dozen DVD's I've not had a chance ot watch yet.

The funny thing? I'm a big fan of Japanese films and Horror films by my nature. And frankly, I didn't think Kairo was very good.

Now don't misunderstand, it's not a bad film by any stretch. The cinematography is quite good, for one thing. The acting ranges from OK to quite good the board over, and it's got SHOU Aikawa (ZEBRAMAN) for crap's sake... on the other hand, TOMIE had none other than Tomorrow Taguchi (TETSUO: THE IRON MAN) and it sucked balls. The soundtrack was also lovable in a traditional "ghost story" sort of way with lots of theatrical wailing and the like... by all means, Kairo should be a good movie. The tale of vengeful ghosts using the untapped source of the internet to trap people between the realm of life and death is an intriguing idea, albiet one that seems just a bit simple in 2006 where every douchebag and his left nut - myself included - blogs about whatever irritates them so that the amazing people on the internet can listen. The effects work - mostly of the subtle sort - is mostly compitent (especially the ghostly figure at the arcade)... but the film just rubs me wrong on a few levels.

First and perhaps foremost is the simple genre convention that "shoujo horror" - a genre of horror films made for highschool girls that includes Ring, Ju-On, Uzumaki, Tomie, Kakashi and the like - were meant to be moody and based on slow boil shocks rather than explosions of gore and screaming. I'm fine with that: I think that both Ring and Ring 2 are very good films, and with their level of real world belivability beat out their over the top American remake (though the American version of RING was likable, which is odd, as I usually despise remakes from the very pit of my black soul). I've also watched the original Ju-On, the one with Kuriyama Chiaki, and more or less gave up after that. These films are based on making you want to shit your pants and scream at the cast to run like the idiots they truly are. A big part of what makes this idea work is investment in the characters, you have to actually like them and give a crap if they live or die. Ring accomplishes this well, and Jo-On was... eh, decent. There was little character development, but they were smart enough and - in the case of Chiaki-chan, cute enough that you didn't want them eaten by some kitty boy. The genre CAN work with a little bit of planning and skill... something I'm told that Kairo writer/director KUROSAWA Kyoshi has in spades, and has used in his understated psychological thriller CURE. I've never seen it, so I can't say for sure if it's true... but if it is, he must have been off when bringing this one to the big screen.

The characters in KAIRO are likable enough: we have a paranoid schoolgirl, a socially akward male student, a death obsessed computer teacher and a few other odds and ends that don't honestly ammount to very much (Shou plays little more than a shadowey cameo by the end of the film). Part of the trouble is in the interactions between the clueless kid and the freaky teacher. They're likable enough on their own, but they spend their time doing their "I'm not afraid of ghosts!" and "Humans can't exist alone..." schtick respectively. I can accept this in a surrealist film, or even an amalgam of opposing realities (like Evangelion or Fight Club, say), but Kairo is neither. It's a tightly structured thriller, and having characters play their theories so hard on one another seems a bit... akward. Maybe Japan is just a country where people discuss their lonliness about the world on a first date and I assumed that Anno was just making it up. Either way, the characters being mouth pieces for social anxiety before they're likable characters makes them more difficult to care about than they really should have been.

The film literally has no gore to offer up, so the tense scare scenes are where it has to really hit hard. Now I've always been a fan of gore for a multitude of reasons, but it's most needed in horror films for one simple reason: without it, the film feels like it's not playing for keeps. Like it's not taking itself seriously. Maybe I'm just jaded, but the lack of blood in the film really keeps it from reaching a level it might otherwise have reached. Uzumaki - which I nominate as queen of Shoujo Horror - had plenty, so it's not unheard of for shoujo horror to cross the line of good taste. (TOMIE even had a fleeting moment of boobies.) Most importantly are the scare sequences themselves in the "Forbidden Rooms": the first we get to see in which a girl is attacked by a long haired phantom would seem right at home in a Chinese hopping vampire film, or even a more conventional Edo period piece in which ghosts were basically white dead people with cool green lighting that cropped up out of nowhere... but compared to the sticky well dwelling deformed creepers and meowing naked kids Kairo has to directly compete with, this is kind of gay. I'll admit that the final - and in a sense only - face to face confrontation with a ghost is a beautiful sequence... one that defies pretty much every expectation, and plays itself with such a cool sense of reality that it's one of the film's finest moments (along with the impressively achieved graphic suicide around half way through; which didn't include a drop of blood). If the film were full of more sequences like that inevitable confrontation in the Forbidden Room, Kairo could have been a winner... as it stands, I still think the film is overrated.

And then we have the last reel... yes, after the stand-up ghost confrontation, we have the film's apocalyptic climax. Frankly, it's not doing much for me. Wither or not the sequence is meant to imply that the entire world has fallen victim to the Forbidden Room or if this is the remainder of reality, the world in which those who were trapped by the ghosts of the past are forced to inhabit - a world which is neither really life nor death - is never made particularly clear. Let us not forget that the black smoke raising from Tokyo may also be the ash remenants of those taken by the Forbidden Room - a concept which would have been very, very cool had writer/director KUROSAWA Kyoshi actually done something with them. As it stands the ending feels almost tacked on, like a way of raising the bar of what could be accomplished in shocking audiences with Shoujo Horror without actually being cruel or visceral in the process. The apocalyptic final reel I can forgive for having bad CG: it's the relation to the rest of the film that leaves me scratching my head and wondering what it was everyone else saw in 2001 that I'm just totally missing here.

Interesting little pondering: during the final reel there's a plane explosion, an event which is totally silent on the Hong Kong DVD. Rumors have spread that the exclusion was done to coincide with then recent 9/11 sympathies... but oddly enough, the sequence isn't cut. I don't see how not HEARING an explosion makes it OK, but then I rarely understand censorship. The Hong Kong DVD is also the only edition to include a 5.1 upmix. After the move I have everything hooked up to my cheesy TV anyway, and knowing the Japanese DVD was 2.0 makes me wonder if the original Japanese DVD - released 2 or 3 weeks before the events in New York - included the audiable explosion... and wither or not the US DVD features it as well. Either way, the R3 is interlaced and comes from a composite master, so the R1 is probably the one to go for if you have any love for the film. I wouldn't mind having the R1... though both the R1 and R3 have a misleadingly awesome cover image of a rotting ghost revealing her squishy, creepy face. Lying bastards... given a few squishy corpses crawling around on webcams maybe this film could have been forgiven. But that's just not the way it went down.

All this having been said, I should say that I generally like Shoujo Horror. Ring was a quiet and subtle masterpiece of horror, Ju-On was a likable if not amazing piece of V-Cinema, Tomie was a frustrating mess of ideas that just didn't gel with an awesome ending and a few great visuals, and Uzumaki... well, Uzumaki is just an amazing film. Starts out adorable and awful and just spins out of control until everything is freaky as all hell: still my favorite horror films from any country, in any sub-genre. I haven't seen a great many more Shoujo horror films - Kakashi (Scarecrow), Inugami (Dog Gods), Nagai Yumi (Long Dream), Shikoku (Land of the Dead) - that I'd probably enjoy more than not. And while TOMIE is a painful misstep, the sequels are supposedly all worlds better. Go figure. The problem with Shoujo Horror is, well, it is what it is; not violent and spooky stories for highschool girls. They're rarely all that shocking and base their existance on mood more than actual scares. This isn't a bad thing, and with films like SAW, HOSTEL and the like filling the screens with long graphic sequences of torture and dismemberment, it was nice to see a genre take the "high road" for a little while. But the trouble is, there are films that did that better than Kairo. You can do much, much worse... the trailer for JU-REI is a prime example of how you don't know how bad a genre can get 'till after you've seen it's cheapest, least creative immitators. *Shudder*

For the record, ONE MISSED CALL is Shoujo Horror... but it's really a satire thereof more than a straight up offering. Much like D.O.A - DEAD OR ALIVE, it plays istelf so over the top while never failing to take itself totally seriously that wither or not it's supposed to be the real deal isn't clear 'till the final scene. AUDITION is anything but Shoujo Horror, for the record... and I don't know what crack infused adrennaline drug that Eli Roth is snorting for saying that Audition was also what started the current trend of Hard-R horror films in the US. I want to know. That must be some good shit.

In closing, it should be noted that when I saw the US cover for Kairo (before I actually saw the film), I had to shake my head in sadness. It proudly proclaimed "The J-Horror Film that inspired the remake!" Much as the word J-Horror makes my penis go soft and my eyes boil... it shouldn't. Shoujo Horror is made for cheap to appeal to horror hungry schoolgirls with money to spend. KAIRO, for better or worse, is in much the same boat. In the same way that J-Pop is to refer to flavor of the month bands in Japan, why shouldn't J-Horror refer to these equal cash-in films that may or may not be worth a second look? The problem to me is that saying Audition, or Eat the Schoolgirl or Red Room or even Meatball Machine* is "J-Horror". Yes, these are Japanese Horror films. But they're also nasty, shocking, amazing horror films that kick you in the teeth and stomp on your nuts while you're down. Kairo... well, not so much. It's the perception that these titles give that bother me.

*I can't say for sure on Meatball Machine, as I've only seen a trailer. But it's a cute chick and hamburger filled remake of TETSUO. Explain to me how that can't kick ass.

This may well be the first time I'm looking forward to a remake. KAIRO had some amazing ideas in it, it just didn't know what to do with them. Meanwhile, the American film PULSE has armies of naked pasty screaming corpses. I like subtlety more than the average American, but if we can get less dialogue centered around on what it means to be dead and more wailing nekkid' people I'm all for this one.

That having been said, I'll still bitch and moan like an emo bastard if anything becomes of the BATTLE ROYAL remake. Ewww.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Back in Bible Black!

Hey~ everybody!

Sorry about my brief dissapearance from teh interwebz. I had to move, I have a hundred boxes of useless shit, my computer got packed away, I -still- don't have a goddamn chair (but I do have a desk... go figure)... been a looooooooong ass week. But things are finally approaching normalicy, so I can begin bitching about what other DVD companies do wrong. Aren't you lucky, lucky boys?


After having talked about boobies for a good long time on this blog, it's time to show you some. But don't get your hopes up or your harbl's out yet; these are EDUCATIONAL tits. You can wank to them later.

Ain't they pretty? They're from episode 3 (or was it 4?) of BIBLE BLACK: LA LANZA DE LONGINUS, aka BIBLE BLACK NEW TESTAMENT. Vol. 2 of the sequel to "The Best Hentai of the New Millenium" has just been released in the US, and while it's uncensored - no cock blocks to be had here - something is definately off. Compare the bottom of that picture. Also compare the color of hair, the shading on the breasts and nipples... in short, just LOOK at them. The animation is completely different, isn't it? The one of the left - the "completed" image - is from the Japanese DVD. The version on the right is from the "uncensored" US DVD.

So, what in the name of holy hermaphrodite hentai is going on here?

Basically, digital animation - ie, everything made after 2000 or so - is made on layers. Just like cel animation: the background is a layer, the character's body is a layer, the mouth and eyes may be separate layers, and the semen flying in to said eyes and mouth are another layer. With digimation, which is where the drawings are scanned in to a computer and composited at the digital level, the same thing happens; the difference is you can drop and add layers more easily than with traditional cel anime. Basically, the uncensored version is missing layers of shading - there are also shots that are cropped differently, lose whole objects... basically, there's a LOT of problems on the US release because the animation wasn't finished. This is the first time a US version of an adult anime has been outright unfinished, and there are a few probable reasons for it. I'll go over them now:

First off, Bible Black is one of the most overtly popular adult titles in years. Seriously, this thing is a hit in the US, France, Germany, and naturally in Japan. It has a fairly good story (involving a virgin sacrifice to keep an evil witch from going back to Hell to return her debt to Satan), and most importantly, it's got more quivering pornstar inspired flesh (without the stretchmarks!) than any other hentai before or since. Seriously, if this show doesn't make you hard and/or wet, you're dead. Period. It's popularity in the US has actually - ironically - created a very big problem to it's Japanese production company, MILKY. See, Milky sells hentai like all Japanese studios do: about $70 per episode with pixelation censorship over the good stuff. This is just how Japan rolls. The US release is roughtly in line with all US hentai DVD's: 30-60 minutes of content, uncensored, for $30. That means you can either pay $30 on 2 episodes in America AND have Japanese/English audio with totally optional English subtitles, or you can pay $140 for the same episodes with no translations. Seems like a no-brainer. And unfortunately for Milky, who makes it's money on the Japanese release, Japan feels the same way.

Reverse Importing - in this instance - is when someone in Japan buys a foreign DVD of a Japanese movie. (This could be applied to any situation - if I buy the German DVD of SAW II, being a Yank, that's also a reverse import.) Reverse Importing only gives money to the guys who licensed the film internationally, not to the studio that created it directly. So when you buy Bible Black in America, you're supporting Media Blasters, not Milky directly. Granted the more money Kitty makes the more they can give Milky in the future, so it's a vicious cycle of sorts. The other problem is internet downloaders. I know I try to buy the cartoon porn I like, but that doesn't mean I don't have a dozen DVD-R's of bootlegged porno all the same. Most people don't buy animated pr0n. I do, and some of my friends do. But far and wide, if you lived in Japan and could either buy a DVD for $70 or download it sans censorship without even NEEDING to buy the DVD... well, seriously. It makes you want to bootleg, doesn't it?

Vol. 1 of BB:NT was dub only in an attempt to make both Japanese consumers and downloaders suffer... 'course that means we need to hear actresses sound like violated muppets and totally drag ass on the dialogue scenes. Ewww. The dub for Bible Black, while a hilariously awful extra, is SO not the way it should be seen for the first time. Or while trying to crank out some tadpoles. Fans were pissed. John Sirabella himself showed up at the Anime on DVD forums to say "hey, MILKY said we couldn't release it bi-lingual. What do you want from us?" Every other US studio would have had to do the same, and I can hardly blame Sirabella for keeping a money maker in his lineup, wither or not the owner makes retarded demands. Now, it should be noted that as an extra, Vol. 2 of BB:NT included episodes 1 and 2 (effectively BB:NT Vol. 1) in Japanese with English subtitles.

And now, the "actual" content on Vol. 2 has bad animation.

The simple answer here is this: Milky Screwed Us. The long answer is probably that with international versions seen as more of a threat than a sort of money making gravy, an uncensored version that was "good enough" was created, and then the "final" animation was done for the censored version in an attempt to make the Japanese fans pay their hard earned yen for the "finished" version. This isn't so suprising: as a bonus the Japanese DVD box set included an entirely re-animated version of episode 3 (the least impressive from the original 8 episode series), which has never been released uncensored. Nor has BIBLE BLACK ONLY, the porn only short stories that were their own DVD, but that may change in time... so, with the uncensored version being more of a liability than a bonus, why should Milky make sure the animation is any good? More importantly: do we, the money paying horny cartoon loving populace, really give a goddamn?

I like Bible Black, "properly" animated or no. I'm less impressed with the sequel on a lot of levels, mostly the shoddy storytelling and poor character representation (as in the personalities are suddenly different: the animation is absolutely amazing on the first 2 episodes. AND it features sex with a loaded shotgun!)... but with a dub-only DVD for Vol. 1, I told John I wasn't biting. On AOD* specifically. It's nothing personal, and now that Vol. 2 "fixed" Vol. 1, I still plan on picking them up. I'm just pissed that if I want to see these episodes pretty I need to watch them with cock-blocks... ah well. Won't be the first time, and you all know it.

*AOD = Anime on DVD forums. An evil place, but a place that, much like Mos Eisley, is full of entertaining and visually freaky people. Plus some of them want to trade R2 rips. Hell yes I'm down with that.

The real question here is wither or not there even IS an uncensored/properly animated version, and Milky just stiffed Media Blasters out of a certain self-depreciating spite, or if they just didn't bother to finish the international version. There are German DVD's, and a few frustrated fellow perverts at AOD that will confirm this for me shortly... chances are the German version will be just as bad, if not worse due to the NTSC-PAL conversion. Yuck. If John Sirabella and co. was stiffed, however, I'm going to have to re-think how I buy this show. I generally like the US DVD's (those ugly-ass credits on episodes 3 and 4 aside... John, WTF!?), but if Milky's going to ensure that each and every one of them sucks... well, I may have to stick with downloads or start buying the ugly boxed German DVD's at around $20 an episode. Ouch.

And that's what I got for ya' today. I could have launched in to a massive tirade about how much futanari rock... but that's another issue for another day. For now, enjoy your boobs and search AOD for more pr0noriffic examples of how badly animated the US version is.