Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Through Flesh and Bone: A Review of Saw III

Well, this has been a decent Halloween. Not the best EVAH, but certainly more likable than the stint I did taking a goddamn Accounting I test lats year just before All Saints Day. How lame was that?

Part of what I do - aside from dressing up head to toe and scaring the bejesus out of 3 year olds who walk up to my door and take a gummy eyeball from Mr. Zombified Corpseman - is make it a point to see a movie every year on Halloween. My wife always comes with me, and I've somehow managed to con her into seeing both the fairly dismal THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE 2003 remake, and the original SAW without knowing a thing about the latter. We also took in Tim Burtons' CORPSE BRIDE that, while not a horror film, sums up Halloween beautifully; cutesey kid cando coated fun that happens to be filled with rotting corpses and Christopher Lee. I dig it. Anyway, a while back I showed my wife a trailer for SAW III, and it was decided she wouldn't see it. She'd let ME see it, sure, but she'd be in the other theatre. That's pretty weak, so I shrugged and said we'd go see the Prequel to the Remake of one of my favorite films of all time. Uh-huh. I was REALLY looking forward to that one after hearing it makes TSCM'03 look like a masterpiece.

But I have my reasons: my wife despised SAW II. The first one left her disgusted, which confused me. Even the unrated version isn't all -that- visceral, it just leaves massive psychological scars with the camera work and editing, making you think you've seen twice the intestine yanking and foot lopping than is actually on the screen. It's a great tactic, and the film - despite some obvious flaws - was something I didn't expect: it was a mature, intelligent, studio backed horror film. That's not to say all horror films aren't either mature or intelligent. But... no, screw it. Most horror films suck, and appeal to the lowest of the low in what humans want to see - blood, boobies, and stupidity. We still love them, but if you can look me in the eye and tell me that SCREAM is actually any more intelligent than SCARY MOVIE, you're not quite jaded yet. I don't give a rat's ass if it was the most intelligent slasher ever shot, it still only won the Special Olympics spelling bee by a slight margin by spelling the word "cat" without a numerator involved. And that's okay. We didn't ask that Scream was a post modern masterpiece, and I'm sure Craven just figured it'd be a cute and fun twist on an idea he ironically avoided pretty much his entire prior career. We have critics to make that bone-headed judgement for us. Bald and fat pretentious dickshits.

Anyway, then came SAW. The doing of a pair of crazy Australians who had the clever idea of sending a script -and- a completed scene from it (in the form of a short film) in to Lion's Gate films. It worked, and while I'm sure the making-of documentary has convinced every single horror film making wacko to include a DVD-R with their script, it was a fairly unique way to show their hand. The concept of a serial killer who drugs people, and then puts them in death traps with the chance of surviving is definately an interesting one, and one that I'm dissapointed hasn't been ripped off more yet. It's arguably in and of itself a knock-off on the Sci-Fi film CUBE, but let's not go there yet. When all was said and done, SAW was, at heart, a moralistic tale in the vein of SE7EN with the gritty-yet-psychadellic sensibilities of SUSPIRIA. It was a good combination, and worked mostly thanks to the strong performances going in to it. The biggest problems with the film were, in a sense, the character in the film that was grabbing the people and making them do bad things to themselves...


...If you didn't catch that, I'm about to spoil the hell out of Saw. And Saw II. And most of Saw III. So if you don't want me to do that, then... I dunno'. Go make me a sammich. And I want mustard, no mayo. Oh, and Aeris dies, Soylent Green is made of people, and it's his sled. Tell your friends.

So, "Jigsaw", the evil mastermind, turned out to be a terminally ill patient that we see for all of 2 minutes in the film proper. He actually only has a single line of dialogue in the film (when not voicing his all too freaky little puppet), and while his intentions are clear - present foolish people with a taste of death to let them appreciate the life they hold so little regard for - there's almost nothing making him "click". We know he's terminally ill. That's about it. We don't get a sense of who he is, why he cares, how he came up with these grand plans, or even how he pulls them off when he's pretty much a bed-ridden cancer patient. You'd assume that, given the final scene in the film in which Jigsaw turns out to be the corpse rotting on the floor of the filthy bathroom the lead characters find themselves in, we'd learn a bit about who he is in the inevitable follow up.

Funny thing, that Saw II. We really didn't learn shit about him. He doesn't tell us any stories about why he started doing this, or how he pulls it off. We're also treated to a film that's very different in tone and nature, in which not 2, but 8 (!) main characters have to play to survive in a CUBE inspired house from hell, which includes the scene that promptly made my wife nearly lose her lunch: a pit of syringes with a key at the bottom. I didn't like this scene either, for a simple reason: I've stepped on a drinking glass. I KNOW what that shit feels like on the inside of your foot. Not a pleasant experience, let me tell you. There's also the psychological issue of "where have those things BEEN!?", but that's another matter entirely. What we learn is that Jigsaw convinced his sole surviving victim, Amanda (aka "Reverse Bear Trap Girl"), acted as the dying man's right hand. This, at the very least, explains how a cancer patient who can't even wipe his own ass can escape Danny Glover and lug unconscious people around at will. This is something the first film didn't touch on at all, and to me, hurts it's credibility and logic. Saw II fixes this... but also uppes the disbelief required to sit through it, since we have to believe that the entire FBI team is watching the events in "real time", and that the timing would just coincide perfectly without any major hiccups.

The other big problem in Saw II is the cast. We now have 8 people who have a chance to escape: which, of course, also means 8 potential nasty, gory deaths (and as the needle pit proves, you don't even have to die to make the audience happy). The problem is that, apart from Amanda's world weary character (who's a massive setup) and the kid's general innocence, every other character is an unlikable asshole. This is a tactic that was started by slasher and zombie films at the end of the 1970's, most likely in an attempt to make the audience root for the set pieces to shut these irritating stereotypes and jerkwads once and for all. The upshoot is that when the gore does hit, we feel elated rather than bummed. The downside is that it becomes wholly impossible to care if anyone makes it out alive. Much as people have chastized films like HOSTEL for being nothing but an excercize in brutality and torture, it's also a film that centers around a compitent and likable character, which is pretty amazing as they've been turning him in to a total dick for the first half of it. Hostel was full of graphic violence, but it was never without careful planning and a place in the story. It was there to make you squirm and feel sick as much as it made you hope that our hero makes it out alive. We like him. We don't WANT him to get his eyes torn out, his toes cut off, his head skewered or his achiles tendons snipped like every other person we liked in the movie. That Jay Hernandez plays a hero makes Hostel something aside from gonzo porn for sadists... it makes Hostel a "real" movie. Not a perfect one, no, far from perfect (damned third act...), but a film in which we have a hero we want to see prevail. It's this vital missing link that makes Saw II exactly what everyone who didn't like it right. Saw II, in lacking a central character (or at least a tolerable one) is, indeed, torture for torture's sake.

That's not to say Saw II isn't damned good torture for torture's sake, but there are better options still.

Then, we have Saw III. It also solves a major problem with the first film: the lead characters were in a logical puzzle rather than a massive chain of machines, like everyone else that Jigsaw had dealt with before. Much as I can appreciate the concept of allowing a person the right to saw off his own foot to escape ala MAD MAX... it seems kind of, simple. Cheap, even. It was still an intriguing idea, but it's one that reeks of a low budget and smaller scale in comparison to the energetic and nasty sequences we see otherwise. Saw III picks a man who's son was hit by a drunk driver, and makes him solve several puzzles to confront the people who were responsible for letting the killer get off almost scott free. It's a much larger, more ambitious puzzle, without being so over the top that it makes the proceedings look suspiciously like a commentary on reality TV (something I both applaud and despise about Saw II). Most importantly, we finally see a human side to John Kramer, Jigsaw himself. We saw him in the flesh in Saw II, but he comes across as something of a sideshow ringmaster or a game show host. He's controling everything and knows it, and doesn't have to be thankful or apolagetic to anyone. Saw III begins with him getting increasingly sick from the cancer, and has Amanda collect a surgeon to ease his pain, at least for a while... and she's quickly outfitted with an explosive collar that will end her life should Jigsaw's heart stop.

I should also note that I'm quite fond of the opening stretch. Literally a remake of the final scene from the first Saw, we watch Mark E. Mark (or, since he decided not to show, "I Can't Believe it's Not Mark Whalburg In This Dark Set!") bust his own foot to escape without bleeding to death. While I fail to see how a crushed foot is any more or less useful than a cut off foot, hey, it sets a tone and then some. While the first film ended with the raw rubbing of a heavy blade against flesh and bone, the third begins with the oh-so lovely sound of bones crunching and twisting in to shapes they were never designed to take. Yum. No, it's not as satisfyingly sadistic as hearing Jesus' getting nailed to the cross from a certain gore-fest that went on to be called the BEST MOVIE EVAH by pretty much everybody, but it reminds me that if you do the same thing without a religious or historical context, it's exploitation. Also, kudos for showing the results of every single "machine death" to follow. That's some nasty stuff.

Right from the onset, the better aspects of the two previous films are in action: the extreme and fetishistic mechanical torture that was the focus of Saw II, and the strong morally ambiguous characters of the original Saw. It also up's the "ew" factor considerably, with not only someone's head blown literally to pieces (and how the HELL did the MPAA let that go?!), a man twisted apart on a rotating crucifix, a woman frozen to death in sub-zero temperatures in several stages, a shotgun blast fo the face, and finally, fun with a circular saw (though not nearly as much fun as I expected). Much like the needle pit in Saw II, this also has a satisfyingly squirm-inducing sequence that isn't fatal, in which a man is doused in rotten liquified pork. While you'll see plenty of repulsive things in your lifetime, rotten liquified pork will remain right up there for a while. But there's also a preliminary pair of torture sequences, one of them ripped right out of the final moments of Clive Barker's HELLRAISER, and another that leads to an even bigger problem: if Amanda is fully capable of attatching cable to someone's ribcage, why can't she perform the brain surgery on Jigsaw? I guess brain surgery is a more difficult endeavor, especially since she wants him to live afterwards, but this makes her uselessness in the brain surgery sequence kind of... suspect. Also, they didn't shave his head? What the hell? Kudos for very believable and utterly nasty fake brains though: some guy behind me actually said "call me when this is over" and walked out of the theater. Haha!

Saw III also leaves us with another burning question: "who the hell was that?" While the first film was based on flashback, since we were dropped in to the middle of the story, Saw III's flashback feels almost tacked in. Who is this lovely blonde woman that Jigsaw has such an affection for? Well, he's dead, and so is Amanda, so I guess we won't know unless James Wan can somehow come up with a logical explanation for the Jigsaw murders to keep going. While I don't for a moment doubt that SAW IV is coming out next Halloween, I do have my doubts that it'll be able to continue the story set down up to this point.

If I'm to assume that Saw is a trilogy - and I'll be wrong, I'm sure - it's one that more or less delivered in it's final hour. I like all 3 films, despite their obvious flaws, and while we can really credit the TSCM'03 remake as the revival in super-gory R-rated horror films, we can credit Saw for the current trend of original American horror films that don't totally suck. It's not the revolution of modern horror some people were freaking out about in 2004, but it's always been a fairly smart, and mostly not tongue-in-cheek combination of some of the better ideas horror films have been toying with for the past 30 years. If you have any love for either of the previous 2, the third is definately no worse, and I'd honestly say it's better than 2 totally... if you can forgive that the final scene is very, VERY hard to swallow. Much as Jigsaw is the man at what he does, to assume that everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - would play out as he assumed it was seems like a copout to me. Saw II could get away with this because he already knew the events, and just had to play along with them as if they were current. Frankly, the scene where the film "Rewinds" to show us everything we didn't, and mostly did see, is totally irrelevant. The revalation we shouldn't have caught (maybe? Watching gialli a lot lets you spot this shit from 40 paces...) only occurs after Jigsaw is dead, and while the first film was pretty intelligent in its setup and thus deserved some kind of summary, it feels a bit tacked on here. Maybe it's there to justify the "flashback montage" that ends with the blown up head. If that's the case, damnit, do more of them and end with more still shots of extreme gore.

Saw III is nihilistic, grimy, and anything but "fun" or "spooky" like you'll get from the other 2 limp wristed looking horror films in theatres right now (TSCM: The Beginning and The Grudge 2, if you're unsure). It has some flaws, and could have stood a bit more exposition and a bit less random useless gore - much as I do love the 2 opening mechanical kills as truly gross set pieces, they do very little to further the story as a whole. But that doesn't stop it from being a worthy, if not superios, predocessor to it's occasionally overrated but definately enjoyable previous films. It's violent and smart franchise horrror, and if that isn't worth $8 (plus $13 for a soda, popcorn and box of sweedish fish), hell, I don't know what is.

Did I mention that my "Uncut Special Edition" of the first SAW broke not long ago? Yeah, middle ring snapped like a bastard at some point and I didn't know it 'till a few days ago. Also, it's out of print. Fabulous. So I'll pay $50 on eBay for the privelage of having a "new " copy to sit alongside the uncut version of Saw II I haven't yet paid $20 for. Friggin' awesome.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Resolution Revalation

Hey, ev-ery-body.

Yeah, the apocalypse with the shoulderpads and the sadness... eh, I'm half over it. Half. Much as I'm depressed and angry and kinda' worried and all that crap, I refuse to let any sort of blog I put up degenerate in to an Emo love fest in which I curse my family and life, which despite being very poor ain't half bad. That's what talking to me on the phone or on AIM is for and you know it. I'm still happily married, I still have ramen noodles and coke, and if my boss comes through I may not have to I.O.U. everyone's X-mas gift this year. So, back to work, eh?

I'm not actually OFF eBay, I just need to shift my focus from yaoi to... something else. While hentai is kinda' out by default (bastards are wise to me selling Haitoku no Shoujo 'n all), I have other, less pornoriffic films currently on the block. Esoteric, crazy stuff that may or may not make me a pittance. But with nearly $30 worth of listing fees having been restored to my account, I may as well go for broke and see what I can do.

Now then, it's time to bring up something that may make your head hurt. Hurt like a throbbing sum'bitch, infact. If you don't like math - and lord knows I don't - you may want to skip this entry entirely. I wish I could, but I need to get everything all orderly in the ol' noodle before moving on with my plan.

I have films on VHS that don't have any better release available to them. VHS, the dead tape based bastard that it is, wasn't all -that- bad. Certainly the color reproduction was poor, at best, there was a lot of chroma noise, and worst of all basic playbakc devices introduced time base errors that made the video all... wobbley. Pop in an old tape, particularly in a cheap VCR, and watch how straight lines bend and wiggle. While I love that DVD can have uncompressed PCM audio, component mastering that kills the rainbow effect and 720 by either 480 or 576 glorious lines of resolution... the fact that straight lines are perfectly straight makes me love it more than anything. I've since learned that laserdisc does this as well... but that's so not what I'm getting in to, so I'll let it ferment while I move on.

Now, the biggest problem VHS faces is the resolution. Resolution is a tricky thing; "more" doesn't mean "better", and analog versus digital resolution is, quite simple, teh suck. It doesn't make any sense, but neither does how video works, so I suppose that's fitting. To put it simply, digital video is a very controled source; you have 720 lines going horizontally, 480 going vertically on any NTSC signal. Hence, full "D1" NTSC is 720 x 480. The NTSC signal in the analog world is 720 x 525, no matter WHAT you're feeding it: perfectly encoded DVD, 20 year old unwatchable VHS tapes, whatever. NTSC is what it is, and that's 720 x 525. The digital realm created the nearest equivalent, which just happened to be 720 x 480. Seems simple enough.

Now, VHS is about 240 lines of resolution. What this means is that the signal is, in theory, 240 lines by 480 lines. The problem is, the signal is stored as analog video. Analog isn't a series of lines going this way and a series of lines going that way. It's more like a seemingly random assortment of dots that fluctuate in and out to create a 720 x 525 signal. Whenever you hook a DVD player up to a $6,000 HDTV using component video, the same thing is happening - you convert the digital signal on the DVD to an analog NTSC signal, and then the TV re-converts that back to the TV's resolution. Whatever that may be. Either way, NTSC is limited to 720 x 480, and whatever size the video file REALLY is, to view it on NTSC compatable equipment it's being converted - up or down - to 720 x 525 analog NTSC. In other words, what you save the the video at doesn't matter, as long as it's less than or equal ot 720 x 480. Killer, right?

Well, we established that VHS in the analog world had, oh, 240 x 480 resolution. For years, people said VCD was "VHS Quality". I've thought for many years that these people were simply on drugs. Really awesome drugs. They argue "both has 240 lines of resolution". Well, yes. But on the wrong axis. VHS in the digital realm is something like 240-280 x 480, really. Depending on how it was recorded, how stable those unpredictable analog dots are, etc... the quality of the tape and how it was recorded can have a huge impact on just how that works. VCD has a resolution of 352 x 240 in the digital realm.

352 > 240. Okay, VCD wins for vertical resolution.

240 < 480. VCD fails, right here. When fed 480 lines of resolution, it deinterlaces it by default. Weak!

SVCD has a resolution of 480 x 480. VCD's 352 x 240 is compatable with every single DVD player manufactured by spec, but 480 x 480 is totally optional. So that fucker's right out, despite having more than enough resolution to tickle my fancy.

So what about CVD resolution? It's less commonly used, and was never as popular as it's better known little brother, but let's check the resolution on that bastard format which was just as developed as S/VCD, but managed to be even less popular for reasons I'll never understand:

352 > 240. Heard that before.

480 = 480. Bing-bong, hello!

Here's the gravy in this situation: CVD standard is mandatory acceptable resolution in every single NTSC compatable DVD player that bears the DVD logo.

Game. Set. Match, motherfucker.

Now, here's the fun part: why I explained this relatively esoteric and complex formula, at length. I have a lot of VHS material recorded at high bitrates of 720 x 480. I want to re-encode it, for various reasons (including color correction, or fitting more material on a single DVD-R). Now, the way compression in MPEG works is you use a set chunk of data - let's say 5 megabits per second - over a one second period. The higher the compression/the smaller the filesize, the less visible compression you'll get. Which means the higher quality you'll see.

Now, let's do some math again. D1 resolution, 720 x 480, is a total of 345,600 pixels. 352 x 480, meanwhile, is a total of 168960 pixels - in otherwords, "Half D1" has about half the pixels of "Full D1". Now, if we were to encode 2 clips at 5 mbps (megabits per second). Which one is going to have more "visible" compression problems, the one that's got twice as many pixels, or the one that's got half as many? The answer is the bigger video will have bigger, and more visible compression problems. That's not to say that the smaller one will look "perfect", but to get the same quality, you basically have to double the birate. What I'm driving at is, when your video resolution (ie; number of pixels per frame) is twice as large, you need twice the bitrate to keep the quality the same as half the pixels-per-bitrate.

So, at 720 x 480, I can fit 1 hour at 9 mbps with more or less perfect quality. At 352 x 480, I can fit 2 hours at 5mbps with more or less perfect quality. I'd lose resolution on DVD or LD sourced material, but for VHS, there's simply not enough detail in the original signal to justify Full D-1.

So with all this conceptualizing back and fourth, here's the REAL question: does Half D-1 on VHS material look as good as Full D-1?

Here's a recent test I did for ISHII Teruo's infamous pinku violence film released in Germany as TOKUGAWA III: IM REICH DER SINNE (Realm of the Senses - also known as 'Orgies of Edo' and 'Genroku Onna Keizu', which means "Genealogy of Genroku Era Women"... give or take), a film desperately in need of a Kentai Films restoration. Released only on VHS in Japan to this day, there was a German DVD... but it was taken from a vintage (early 1970's) theatrical print, and has not only plenty of problems with scratches and grime on the print, but was heavily edited by the German censors all those decades ago. Forget that it's dubbed in Deutsch. It IS anamorphic widescreen, but a detailed print of a heavily edited film just isn't doing it for me.

When comparing these screencaps, remember: BIGGER IS NOT BETTER! They'd both be blown up considerably to fit either a TV or a computer screen.

First up, we have the untouched D-1 MPEG master file. It's pretty soft... well, that's the way VHS is. It's also a bit macroblockey to begin with - that's what happens when you record soft video at roughly 5mbps at 720 x 480, which happens to be the way that NTSC DVD recorders do their thing. It's actually notably better on "actual" playback, and screencaps are never a fair way to judge a transfer since, most of the time, they let you focus in on the flaws. So, this is the "original". Total size: 3.38 Gigs.

And here's the Half D-1 MPEG master file. I didn't correct the colors (tried to, and the results weren't too pretty... let's forget that ever happened?), and I -did- apply a "sharpening" filter. Why? Because VHS has low resolution and edge enhancement (lightly colored 'halos' around solid colors, giving an artificially "sharper" image) to begin with, and adding a sharpen edge filter basically just brings out the texture that's somewhat inherent as video noise. In short, what it does is dither the solid areas, making the picture "grainier". It's no substiture for natural film grain, but you won't find any of THAT on a VHS print, so this little trick helps to emulate what the film "should" look like. With all that in mind, take a look at the (not so) fine detail, on the kimono, in the reflections of the hawtly painted concubine, the wrinkles in the shogun's bad bald cap wig... between the resizing, sharpening filter, and re-encoding at HALF the average bitrate, do you honestly see any difference between the two? I know I don't. And with file sizes like this I can fit not 1, but -2- full length VHS movies on a single DVD without any 'real' quality loss. Nice! Oh yeah, total file size: 1.8 Gigs. Day~um!

So, dear friends, my question is this: is any ACTUAL detail lost on the Kentai Films remaster? Personally, I don't see ANY goddamn difference in perceptible detail in either of them, nor do I see any "crawling" artifacts that are associated with low bitrates and MPEG. I'll be the first to admit that the video being (heavily - 2.35:1 scope!) letterboxed helps the bitrate stay strong since only about a third of the image is shifting in any notable way, but still, this a real world test, with real world results. If I could encode my masters at 5mbps

Ugh. Well, that's my post-apocalyptic thought for the day. I'm still broke, still kinda' hungry, and still not sure quite what to do with myself... but at least I'm still trying to do what it is that I do.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


eBay has reported to me that everything I've ever listed has been an unauthorized copy.

Well, duh.

Unfortunately, this means any of the several DVD's I have finished I can't sell anymore. And anything else I list I'm likely to be reported for as well.

In short, Kentai Films has just been destroyed.

As all of you know I've done this for a hobby as much as a business, so the projects I have lined up will still get finished eventually. But I don't know if I can make any money on them anymore. Even if I built a website, I doubt I'd get hundreds of hits a month - which is exactly what eBay afforded me. And with the changes in income and the like that have been happening independantly of all this, I was really, really counting on Kentai Films to not only feed my movie hunger, but my stomach as well. While I'm not in any danger of starvation (yet)... I'm definately going to reach a new level of dirty poor, and very, very quickly.

So...what do you do after the apocalypse? Guess I'll have to strap on some shoulderpads, gel up my new mohawk, hop on my dune buggey and find out.

I should be laughing. Or at least smiling. But I'm not.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I can hear the Song of the Wind and Trees

I feel good right now.

Not to say I've felt particularly crappy as of late, exactly. But I have felt dismally about my work output. I've been working on a great many things - lost episodes of epic tentacle hentai, controversial propoganda anime, perfecting my experience with monsterous programs like DVD Maestro, and the all important gauntlet of making sure I have at least a half a clue as to what I'm doing when I release DVD's to the marketplace. I'd like to think I'm OK at it... but I'm sure I'd have detractors, if anyone even knew I, y'know. Existed.

Unfortunately, all of this fancy book learnin' (or fancy computer learnin' as seems to be the case) has left me with a severe lack of output. I'll be the first to admit that my very own, Kentai Films, hasn't released a DVD since last August, an atrocity in and of itself for which it seemed the only penance was ritualistic suicide with a can opener. Unfortunately, I couldn't fit the silly thing in to my belly button, so I've trudged on - despite my woes and fears - to produce this:

Look well, dear friends, for this is it. This is really it. This is the next stage in Kentai Films' evolution. Let me break it down for you, and explain how this whole crazy thing came to be.

A friend of mine - one of only a hand-full of people who read this damnable thing I write in - whom I'll call Caterpillar, is in every real sense of the word my partner in crime. He's provided me with more valuable source materials, translation help and encouragement than I could ever hope to repay. And about all he's ever asked in return is that I make a kick-ass DVD that he can watch with English subtitles. Seems like a fair trade to me. Well, it so happened that he brought up a yaoi title he thought might do well alongside the hentai titles I was working on at the time. He was right. AI NO KUSABI, a veridable triumph of soft core animated pornography, was the first Kentai Films yaoi DVD. All hentai titles to be released thereafter were put on hold, just so that we could release BRONZE: ZETSUAI SINCE 1989, and ENZAI: EINE FALSCHE BESCHULDI-GUNG. Selling less feverently - but more regularly - than my limited hentai output, Kentai Films inadvertantly (to some degree - I'd always planned on releasing LEGEND OF THE BLUE WOLVES 'till Kitty Media beat me to it) became a multi-faceted company, which has released hentai anime, yaoi anime, and a certain controversial live action film, which depending on circumstances may or may not return to the line-up. Big, BIG things may be happening soon, and I need to figure out how to do them before I start shooting my mouth off about "building" this, or "selling" that.

Which brings me to KAZE TO KI NO UTA, aka Song of the Wind and Trees. Basically an impossible to find urban legend to most fans of yaoi anime, Kaze (as I'll now shorthand it) was the original yaoi/shounen-ai (that's "boys love" for anyone out of the loop - or romantic stories involving a pair of male leads) manga, and anime respectivelty. The Kaze OVA, running 60 minutes long, was a beautifully animated and interesting way to present only a portion of the massive 17 volume manga from which it took its inspiration from. A whistful, bittersweet tale, it focuses on a boy in the early 18th century named Serge Batouille, the son of a nobleman who married a gypsy, and begins on his first day at his father's boarding school Laconblade Academy. From there, he meets his roommate, the beguiling and infamous Gilbert Cocteau, the school tramp who, after years of sexual abuse by his uncle Auguste Beau, is more than happy to give his body to his horny classmates in return for term papers or roughing up someone he isn't fond of. Serge at first tries to convince Gilbert to act reasonable, but over the course of his uneasy friendship with the spirrited yough, he develops feelings for him... feelings he can't explain or justify.

To say much more about Kaze would be doing it a disservice to anyone who actually wants to see it. It's a beautiful piece, really, with a subtle and muted art style that's more reminiscent of classic Disney works like Bambi, with enlongated and distinctly attractive designs based on the sinewy art style of the creator, Keiko TAKEMIYA. The performances are stunning, the period setting used to a great extent (rather than as a marketing ploy; hey, look, it's set in France! That makes it, uh... classy? Fancy?), and while Enzai, a yaoi anime that followed in the de Sade-esque footprints of this prefocessor, is hands down the more graphic title, the understated charm that's shown in Kaze is really something beautiful. As with almost all yaoi material, it's really more of a sad and elegant 'doomed romance' piece of aesthetic film making, as opposed to the blatant erotic material that men are expected to crank one off to in the form of hentai. But yaoi isn't really made for men. As I've covered here in the past, yaoi is much more an emotionally involving form of entertainment, in which you HAVE to care about the characters to get much out of it. In short, if you're looking for gay wank material, there's plenty available. Like Enzai. Hint-hint. But if you want something more daring, more serious, and frankly a hell of a lot better than crap like Boku no Pico (what the HELL? 3 fansubbers pick that up?), Kaze's something you need to take a look at.

And my disk is, I promise, the only way to see it.

Sure, there was a fansub made years ago by the Super Techno Girls. It was pretty decent, back in the day of VHS sourced fansubs. But in this day and age of DVD rips with optional subtitles appearing the day after the Japanese release hits stores, well... it's a very different place now. And this market demands something a bit higher - especially if awful looking DivX versions of the VHS can be downloaded for free. I expect that. And that's why I decided to top the Super Techno Girls in every way possible. By which I mean no disrespect; hell, their subtitles were wonderful to pattern my own off of. I just want anyone who cares to understand WHY anyone would shell out $20 for a DVD-R of this title.

For one thing; the master. This was a tough one. My original plan was to record the VHS master - the only watchable copy anyone seems to have had access to - on to DVD-R, and be done with it. This wasn't going to work, as not only is the Kaze VHS a dark, murky, downright unwatchable piece of crap - perfectly acceptable for a video released in 1987 as it was - it also had MAJOR time base errors. What this means is that when I tried to turn on the TBC/DNR* filter on my handy-dandy JVC pro-sumer VCR, it made the tape "judder" uncontrolably at different points on the tape. I'd rather have a steady transfer with wobbly geometry and grainy noise than a jittery on-crack copy that has these things better. So, that was a bust and a half. There were also the expected minor tape dropouts, some hiss and crackle on the audio... in short, it looked like a 20 year old videotape. Which couldn't be helped.

*TBC/DNR is short for Time Base Corrector/Digital Noise Reduction. In simple terms, the TBC fixes the geometry and warping that comes from platying VHS to make a more stable overall picture, and the DNR is a piece of hardware that cuts down on the ammount of visible noise involved in the actual VHS recording. It helps seemingly grainy, warped video tapes look closer to the way they would have appeared on cable TV, though the general limitations of VHS keep it from looking as nice as either LD or DVD. It definately helps though.

Now I tried to fix it. Having performed a full on color-corection, it looked pretty damn close to how I thought Kaze was always supposed to look, if perhaps a bit too bright. But you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear. If you want silk, you get a laserdisc. And lo and behold, Caterpillar - the crazy sum'bitch who not only showed me where to get the subtitled copy, but also handed me the VHS master I was ready to use - came through again. Tomorrow, I'm sending that beautiful, massive, shiny disk to it's final home in the Netherlands. But not before capturing a perfect backup of the most perfect transfer Kaze will likely ever see in the digital domain.

So, how stunning does my edition looks? I'll let the following speak for itself (click to enlarge to full size):

I don't think I even need to point this out, but really, look at the "faces" on the VHS version. Or rather, the lack thereof. Also notice that the skin tones on the LD master actually look... something like skin. The humanity! I don't even need to mention that our blonde Gilbert over there has an awful punker green thing going on, or that Serge's hair seems to have gone gray on the VHS version. Really. You're smart people, you've figured it all out. I really do want you to drink it in for a minute or two though; I made the transfer on the latter myself, and I STILL can't f'ing believe it.

Anyway, the label was just finished, and I'm finalizing the cover now. It won't change much from what you've seen; just some last minute refining before I start printing it out for readability and the like. The transfer and menus are finished, and in short, Song of the Wind and Trees is as done as it'll ever be. God knows in time I'll re-do some of the older Kentai releases with improved subtitles and more functional/updated menus... but I'm more interested in releasing NEW shows at the moment, so 'remasters' (without better audio OR video) are towards the bottom of the to-do pile. It's for the best. More yummy yaoi, more hardcore hentai, and more sick live action films - with better versions of older titles to come in the near future. Everybody wins! That's just the way I am.

So, with Kaze about to test the waters on eBay, what's next? I don't mind mentioning a few titles, and I'll bring up the most likely next few titles. Knowing how quickly I work, expect to see copies before 2009.

ANGEL COP - All 6 episodes of the most hilariously anti-semitic cyborgs versus psychics gore show ever made. Not that the competition is very stiff. From the director of GANTZ and VIOLENCE JACK: EVIL TOWN, so if you're a fan of Ghost in the Shell, Battle Angel, or just of brains hitting the ground it's definately not to be missed.

VAMPIRE HUNTER D - The original OVA from 1985 is up first, missing the 20th anniversary by a country mile. But look on the bright side; the extra wait means you get not one, but TWO digitally remastered prints (one fullscreen, one widescreen) with 5.1 surround English, and for the first time in the US, Japanese. Expect some rarely seen and rarely heared extras, and the brightest, most vivid and sharp transfers that Vampire Hunter D has ever had. Expect an ultimate edition of BLOODLUST sometime thereafter, but not for a while. I'll need to test the hell out of dual-layer technology before that'll happen. Man, Urban Vision is goint to HATE me if they ever find me.

UV, I'm available for remastered versions.

TOKUGAWA III - aka Orgies of Edo, for the first time available with English subtitles. This'll (unfortunately) be mastered from a VHS, but it'll be the first time the UNCUT and version of Teruo ISHII's pinky violence period film full of abortions, incest, midget abuse and so much more is released with subtitles of any kind. Expect a totally color corrected transfer, optional English subtitles, and both a German trailer and an alternate opening sequence. There are a few other rare pinku films that may be on the roster, but I'll have to see how much interest there is in the genre as a whole first.

COUNTDOWN 2 - A double feature of guro and adorable futanari (two great kinks that go great together!), Kurenai/Zutto Amai Kuchibiru (Crimson/Very Sweet Lips) was the second of 6 total episodes in Hiroyuki UTATANE's show, combining bittersweet romance, swinging comedy, and in this rare case horrific mutilation combined with sexual pleasure. It's no wonder that ADV/Soft Cel skipped this back in the day, but that's exactly why I'm here, to give you all the goods no one else has the gall to let you see. Subtitled and not only uncut, bot totally uncensored. No pixels here. It's a work of art, it truly is. The original manga and Original Soundtrack will be included as extras, and maybe, MAYBE still galleries. (I'm -so- not tearing up the art book I have, but if I can find another at the right price...) Expect a Countdown Collection in due time, with the OOP episode 1 and 3, and (possibly) Countdown Akira Complex eventually.

ROBOT CARNIVAL - The first in one of many somewhat esoteric and... well, downright weird "arthouse" anime I'm very, very interested in restoring to greatness and public awareness. Featuring shorts from Rintaro, Katsuhiro OTOMO, Umetsu YASUOMI, and several others it's a stunning masterpiece that stretches the gambit from quiet experimental animation to hard-boiled bio-mechanical horror and everything in between. Satire, drama, action, romance, all with the common thread of robots being involved make it the Golden Age of Anime's literal answer to Disney's own Fantasia. It's brilliant, and deserved to be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in what animation is capable of at every level. The Japanese DVD is a wreck, the old Laserdisc wasn't any better... but hey. That's why you got me. If anyone cares (and even if nobody does...) expect more experimental "art" anime. There are some amazing titles that nobody's ever seen, and I just might make it all happen out of simple frustration.

Well, I'm out for now. I've got plenty to do for my "other" work, and with the new titles coming my way I need to plough through some older works so I don't get too distracted. Too much time spent playing Final Fantasy 9 and foraging for food that simply isn't here anymore. Not so much a good combo.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Urotsukidoji Kanketsu-Hen: The Lost Episode that should Stay Lost

I'm going to do a very dumb thing. A thing that will confuse, shock, possibly even bore people, right here and now. I'm going to review something that I plan to make money on... and I've very few nice things to say about it.

Why would I do that? Well... you'll see, in due time.

Urotsukidoji broke my hentai cherry, and hard. I was about 14 years old, had money to spend, and had heard a lot of people on that there internet talking about 'Legend of the Overfiend', saying it was a controversial masterpiece. I've always loved horror films - since I was about 3 or 4 years old and watched trashy crap like Creepshow and The Toxic Avenger on my father's lap. I was as horny as most 14 year olds were - if not moreso - and the concept of anime porn horror had me as excited as was humanly possible. Not nessicarily as hard. Just pumped. No, wait, that's sounding even worse. But I have wanked to Akemi and Megumi, so screw it, interpret that however the hell you want. Anyway, I bought the tape - the nice man behind the counter not once questioning me for an ID - got home, and took a look at what I thought would be a cool little flick that would be on par with the stuff that, at the time, was playing on the Sci-Fi Chanel or so.

What I saw was nothing short of a masterpiece. Theatrical quality animation, a story that didn't talk down to the intented horny horror junky demographic (yo!), and one that was as epic as anything seen before in the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker or action packed 80's childrens animation - all of which it liberally stole concepts and visions from to create a sort of world in which schoolgirls are gang-raped by tendril endowed monsters who are soon after blown apart by flying, fireball throwing beasts from other dimensions. Sure, it sounds cheesy at face value, but it was the execution that mattered. The Chojin (or "Overfiend" of the translated title), god of gods, is said to be reborn once every 3,000 years to unite the realms of Man, Demon (Makai) and Beast (Juujinkai) to create an eternal kingdom. Amano Jyaku, a man from the Beast realm, has been searching for the Chojin for over 300 years... and thinks he's found him in the scent of highschool student Nagumo TATSUO, who by dumb luck is courting the school idol Akemi ITOU. Things get more complex as a dickless creep named Nikki makes a pact with some demons for a chance to be with Akemi, and Amano wages his own war with Suikakujyu, a regal and powerful demon who knows that the Chojin isn't the heavenly creature Amano and his people believe it to be. By the end of the video, the world as we know it was already gone, the concept of Gods, Demons and Man were turned flat on their ass, and I had just seen a piece of animation no less important to the world than Akira, The End of Evangelion or Jin-Roh. The fact that it was pornographic - or "almost" in the case of the theatrical version - was and is irrelevant. Urotsukidoji is simply one of the most amazing pieces of Golden Age Anime*, and to belittle it as anything less is misleading and a damned shame.

*The "Golden Age" of anime has been defined by plenty of experts as the period from the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's, when producers were willing to let animators do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted to. Anime, by which I mean Japanese animation and nothing else, was somewhat stilted and primitive up until the end of the 1980's. Animation began to shift to more profitable (ie; less dark and expensive - more focused on the general Japanese public than the hardcore otaku mentality), mostly television themed productions in the mid 90's, thus signifying the end of an era. Certainly animation made to this day CAN be unique and outside the norm, but the number of productions is going way up, while the number of unique productions is ever dwindling. Anyway, feel free to yell at me for the term Golden Age. Then kiss my ass.

After the original series/first movie (which was a total re-edit of the first 3 OVA's, known simply as Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji from 1987 to 1989), 4 sequels were created. That's right. 4. First was Shin Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji Matai-Den (Legend of the Demon Womb, OVA 4-5/International Complete Version 2), then came Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji Mirai-Hen (Return of the Overfiend, OVA 6-9/Director's Edition), and then Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji Hourou-Hen (Inferno Road, OVA 10-12). To most fans outside of Japan, and perhaps plenty therein, that's the end of it. 12 episodes, a "movie" version for the first 3 parts... and that's all there is to comment on. People assuming that's the end of it are, sadly, mistaken. I say "sadly" for many reasons...

First of all, there are 2 more "movies" to be had. The term 'movie' implies that it was actually cut on film and shown in theatres. Using this logic, only Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji Original Gekijo-Ban (the first 3 OVA's re-edited in to a movie) counts. The International Kanzen-Ban (International Complete Version) of Urotsukidoji Mirai-Hen, which was released internationally in Hong Kong, the United Kingom, the United States, France and Spain, was never shown theatrically by any real stretch. Regardless, it's the full story in 90 minutes, no missing footage, a brand new scene filling in the villain's past, and it's uncensored. Truth be told, unless you NEED the Japanese credits (like I do) there's no reason to bother watching the Japanese version. Then there's the Director's Edition of Mirai-Hen. It's uncensored - even in Japan - and while I love every second of this saga, I'll admit that the 120 minute version flies right by, while the 200 minute version does tend to drag it's tentacles with the never ending and not plot affecting scenes of rape. I have NO problem watching rape in my epic fantasy/horror anime (and non-anime for that matter). I just ask that it have something to do with the plot... or at least be unique/hawt. 5 minute sequences of Alector having a loaded machine gun stuffed up her cunt are thus forgiven. Endless scenes of makemono feeding their limp tentacles up Pedro's ass are not. Anyway, the short version is better paced anf has it's positive qualities, but I think the uncut OVA's - warts and all - are the way to go. Though the Director's Edition of Mirai-Hen has never been released on DVD, and is probably the most under-seen part of the saga to ever be available subtitled - none of this should be news to people who are Urotsukidoji fans.

Where it starts getting interesting is the Inferno Road Jyain Kanzen-Ban, and Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji Kyo-O Hen. Jyainzen-Ban (Wickedly Lewd Complete Version - I kid you not!) was the "movie" version of Inferno Road... but with a twist. A new final scene, running about 12 minutes, was comissioned from the famous Madhouse animation studio, responsible for titles popular in the Western world ranging from X to Perfect Blue, Ninja Scroll, Paranoia Agent, the American Spawn cartoon and plenty others: ironically, while the credits acknowledge Madhouse, the Madhouse website doesn't mention it a once. This alternate ending, which involved the Kyo-O having sex with the Chojin for their final battle, reads right in to amasingly dumb and hilarious territory when - after going Super Saiyan 4! - the Chojin is revealed to be a mere demon king (a Makai-O, specfically) who's been hiding in Akemi's womb to drink the blood of both the Kyo-O and the Chojin! OMGWTFBBQBULLSHIT! Seriously, if that revalation weren't goofy enough, the fact that Himi becomes a sultry babe who RAPES THE TENTACLE MONSTER TO DEATH should have everyone who's seen at least 10 minutes of ANY of the former OVA's rolling their eyes. Yes, Megumi could do it. But Megumi launches fireballs out of her snatch, and while lovable and hot in her own way, is also something of a worn out whore. Himi cries and makes people kill themselves. Totally different powers going on there.

But this new and ending was just the tip of the retarded iceburg. When all was said and done, you'd hope for this this kind of subtlety and genius.

After this alternate ending got people's jaws dropping (out of WTF?! rather than OMG!!, if you follow me), a brand new OVA was released. While director Hideki TAKAYAMA came back, script writer Noboru AIKAWA was still missing in action after most of the staff got kicked off of the last episode of Inferno Road (character designers, you name it - the only consistants in OVA 12 were the producers and music, really). His presence was one out of desperation, perhaps... and while Takayama hadn't let us down before, I don't think he could have saved the poor character designs, bad writing, and incredibly limited budget. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The new script isn't *all* bad... it's just not any good, y'know?

After Himi's humping of the Makai-O sent Amano Jyaku, Megumi, and Kuroko version 2 (see OVA 12) 100 years in the past. Wait... no, it was 20 years after Osaka was trashed that Mirai-Hen and Horo-Hen happened. But whatever. 100 years in the past, wink wink nudge nudge and all that. Osaka Castle - Osaka being spelled with kanji meaning "Center of the World" (if memory serves), by the way - is going crazy, and Akemi is spewing massive ammounts of glowing feminine gravy into the sky. Along with flashes of lightning, some serious shiznat's going down. Amano Jyaku, before sensing this disturbance, finds that Nagumo is still kicking around as the Dai Kaujuu we last saw at the end of Uro 1, who was destroyed in Uro 3 with his own cocks. But this is 80 years before Uro 1 happened, so it's all good. Yeah. Okay. Nagumo doesn't recognize Amano - duh!, being that he's the Hakai no Oni and all - and tries to give him a tasty penis blast. Amano splits, and finds Akemi getting down on her bad self, because when you give birth to a god, you masturbate in the process. Who am I to argue with the holy mother of the new humanity? Osaka gets semi-blown up by the birth of the True, Absolutely True, We Mean It This Time Chojin...

...who turns out to be a Freudian spaceship.

A spaceship. I swear to fucking God. It's a giant penis/vagina hybrid, presented in moderately impressive CGI, which literally fucks itself on the inside to give birth to new creatures. I'll get to those creatures shortly.

Anyway, after the Chojin Spaceship shows up, shit goes BAD. Humans and demons start raping girls side by side, beasts starts killing humans and demons, girls get raped by girls... well, that didn't happen, but had more episodes been produced, that's totally what would have happened. In the center of all this is Amano Jyaku in Thundercat form, tearing the shit out of everything in his path - human, demon, even fellow Juujin get tore up by his madness. And not "tore up" in the binge drinking sense either.

So, after snapping to his senses, Megumi tells him the obvious; that creatures from the 3 realms went crazy after the Chojin was born, which is when that giant floaty thing showed up. Huh. You don't say. Anyway, Amano goes to Osaka Castle and finds Akemi resting peacefully. Taking her... well, home I guess, the four are attacked by a bunch of punks that look like a Sailormoon villain and a Power Ranger had freaky buttsex. Totally freaky. Like the kind involving boiled eggs and champagne. Yeah, you know damn well what you did that one time. Well that's what these two did. 'Cept nobody laughed when the Pink Ranger shat out a dozen of these jokers:

After whupping their sorry asses, Amano notes - loudly, after Megumi notices their faces are all the same, "these things don't have a dick or pussy!" It's moments like this that make me glad I translate rare Japanese porn instead of any more conventional job. Had I never seen this one sequence, my life may have never had meaning. Tomohiro NISHIMURA, who weilds an Osaka accent the way that Connery beats you over the head with a grin with his Scottsman schtick, is a moderately to highly respected voice actor in Japan, having appeared in everything from Gundam to Berserk to the Death Note TV series that started last week, as of this writing. He's an amazing talent, and hearing him lower himself to this awesomely retarded shit proves that he's willing to go the distance to get his paycheck. You could argue that actors should have a limit where they tell the producers to go fuck themselves, but I'd rather have a dependable (if not amazing) actor like Samuel L. Jackson appearing in literally any retarded thing anyone can think of than some dickhead who decided they're "too classy" to appear in anything like that. You're an actor. You whore your talents for entertainment. You aren't too good for anything, and stop using body doubles and show your damn ass! Pussies. Nishimura'd do it... though nobody's want to see his aging behind these days. My point is, hearing his distinguished career come down to him giving a brief speech about how there's no "mama to chinchin" is simply the funniest goddamn thing I've ever had the pleasure of translating.

But I'm getting off track. That's right, these things are totally genderless; and as their commander, an androgynous nekkid' thing that explains to Amano that the things he just killed were, infact, the shinjin, the promised New Humanity first mentioned in Mirai-Hen. Without desire, without despair, without love or hatred, they are mindless extentions of the Chojin's creations (like the thing they're speaking with - who appears to simply be a more intelligent - and naked - form of shinjin), and as such are the perfect beings. They are Gods children, and do God's will; which happens to be destroying every living thing on the planet. Certainly this was the plan from the start, something Amano knew... but that this nameless andoroginy creates a giant vagina-trilobite-porcopine that takes a pot-shot at Amano, and then rapes Megumi - with a penis AND a vagina for good measure - sets up Amano to take a trip to the Graveard of Souls, where... Himi's waiting?

Okay. It should be noted that before the episode proper begins, it prefaces the whole OVA by saying that "these events take place after the Urotsukidoji Original Theatrical Version". The problem with that is that Himi, the Kyo-O (Lord of Chaos) is still around. For Himi to still be around, Mirai-Hen and Horo-Hen pretty much have to have to have happened. This is the second time that the adorable Himi will be brought up, and while Himi's a cutie and all that... she's just making the already convoluted Urotsukidoji continuity vomit all over itself. Considering that the original Urotsukidoji took place in 198X, and the sequels 199X/20 years after that, it's actually fairly difficult to upset me on this sort of thing. But if this OVA takes place 20 years after 198X... well... sorry guys, you lost me on that one. So, Himi reveals that all the souls killed by the Chojin wait in a sort of eternal Hell right here - which looks suspiciously like the Makai realm we saw in the original series rather than something... y'know. Worse. (Or new.) Himi explains that, sure enough, every 3,000 years the Chojin re-creates humanity... and every time, the Chojin brings nothing but hatred and violence with it, its children fighting and sinning until, 3,000 years later, it comes back to repeat the process until, one of these damn times, it gets it right. This pisses off Amano Jyaku greatly, who proclaimes that "human lives are not the gods' playthings!" (...dude, where have you been?), and flies off in to a firey rage, apparently now infused with the Kyo-O's power.

While I know that Amano's pissed, learning that the Chojin is more of a plague than a savior... that's sort of been the logical conclusion from day one. The legend was "every 3,000 years", as I remember it. Japanese is a vague language, and this could be chalked up to an improper translation, but really, if every 3,000 years the god of gods comes and does his thing... Amano should have seen this coming. While Amano was wrong in the original series that the Chojin was a benevolent and kindly God who would bring peace and harmony to the existing races, I guess the point they're driving at is that Amano's pissed that the GOOD aspect of humanity (Akemi, Nagumi, himself, etc.) won't be spared, as he was promised at the end of the original series. I'd be kinda' pissed when a god that promised me sanctuary decided I was a useless meatbag too... but if this is the (only logical) reason, the OVA makes absolutely no attempt at driving it home.

Oh, right. Exactly how Amano suddenly learns to use the Kyo-O's power isn't revealed. Not that he does for a while, but this would (logically) be the time he'd figure it out. Maybe that firey rage he huffs off in is the visual representation of this? Whatever. Accepting this retarded crap is no worse than accepting that Himi became a La Blue Girl sidekick.

Back in the land of the living, Amano's healed up in an underground (literally) hospital, where a groups of silly humans calling themselves a Special Forces unit tells Amano to leave everything to them. As expected, these guys are screwed, so let's move on. Once they get outside, Akemi sees Nagumo, and runs up to see her 100 foot tall horny (and wingey) lover. He picks her up, and Akemi has a long, beautiful dialogue... that she basically had in the original series, too. Ugh. The creativity is simply astounding. But while in the original the unborn Chojin stopped Akemi from being squashed in to a sort of sticky Akemi stew, it's Amano who saves her from vaporization. This moment is particularly uncharacteristic of... pretty much everything we've seen up until now in Urotsukidoji. Akemi wanted to die in the original because the world would be destroyed for the sake of her unborn child. I'd be bummed myself about that sort of thing. Yet when she wakes up she's her cheerful, almost painfully sweet self rather than the saddened romantic martyr we were privy to in Nagumo's hand years earlier. (80 years earlier. I'm going to go back and check this scene, but I'm POSITIVE that's what Amano said. WTF? Is -he- retarded now?) This scene, rather than tying up the loose ends left over from Urotsukidoji, feels like the saddest kind of rehash imaginable. We don't even see Nagumo cry, which was arguably the best part of that sequence, so they didn't even rip it off RIGHT!

This retarded, never ending sequence is exactly why Urotsukidoji Kankatsu-Hen sucks... it isn't the worst hentai ever written. No, no, not even CLOSE. Even an awful episode of Urotsukidoji still beats the average epidose of something like Angel of Darkness or Demon Beast Invasion or, god forbid, Alien from the Darkness or Fobia. The problem here is two-fold. For one, even the least impressive saga - Inferno Road/Horo-Hen, hands down - is still okay. It loses focus of the story before it, and doesn't go off on a long enough tangent to quite become its own fun little thing either. It's still well written, well produced, well animated stuff, and had the situations and characters been changed so that it was its own series entirely, it still would be one of the most amusing tentacle shows Japan's come up with. The problem is, it wasn't. It was part of Urotsukidoji, which has a certain high standard of storytelling. I know a lot of you who haven't watched any actual tentacle porn probably think I'm nuts, but it's true. The fact that Urotsukidoji was played in theatres (edited to remove the sight of penis) should speak worlds about it. Not because every movie is good. Far from it. But because a pornographic video series was popular and respected enough to actually have a road show - or at the very least a 35mm print shown in Shinjuku. (The TV commercials said "roadshow", so I can only hope it got play in a few cities. Who knows though.) This has not happened since for a hentai series to the best of my knowledge, and I honestly don't think it ever will. As a good friend of mine made the mistake of doing, he watched every horror themed hentai he could, waiting for "the next Urotsukidoji". It's sort of like waiting for the next Jesus Christ. It's not going to happen, and any savior, preacher or whatever you look at is going to inevitably be a dissapointment. Watching Demon Beast Invasion after Urotsukidoji is sorta' like listening to Al Sharpton preach if you saw the Son of God doing his thing back when; just won't cut it. There hasn't been anything to achieve the same pinacle of greatness in adult animation since (and no, Bible Black doesn't even come CLOSE, try as it may)... and I doubt there ever will be. Urotsukidoji was a risk, an adult piece of entertainment that was written and directed like it wasn't "just porn". And finding anyone willing to do that - nowadays especially, but even back in the 70's when pornography was still considered cinematic art - isn't easy. "Real" directors don't want to make porn, and neither do "real" actors, "real" screenwriters, etc. In Japan it's a little different, where you can make hardcore pr0n and then do a kids TV movie next week without batting an eye... but making good pornography? You need budget and a dedicated staff to do that. And an audience willing to watch it seriously rather than just filling up the sperm bank for 10 minutes or so. Urotsukidoji got all of this right... and nothing else quite has since.

This is the biggest problem with Kankatsu-Hen. It's an average mid 90's hentai. That's a terrible thing to say, but fuck it, it's the truth. Urotsukidoji isn't an average anything. It's this difference in quality that kills any chance Kankatsu-Hen had for achieving any sort of success. Ironically, this isn't the only Maeda series to be killed about this time; Gedo Gakuen: Blackboard Jungle (Nightmare Campus)'s 5th episode was actually the start of "Gedo Gakuen Z". After 1 episode that didn't push the plot forward an inch, fans didn't give a rats ass. Nor should they. Gedo Gakuen, much like most of Maeda's manga adaptations (there are exceptions...), was a piece of genius. The sequel had BETTER animation, more graphic violence and sex, and in short had the potential to totally kick it's predocessors ass. Problem was the producers didn't think the story mattered, and thus ignored the lingering questions totally. Fans were pissed, the show ended after 1 episode. Much like Kankatsu-Hen, GG Z never got a DVD release in Japan. At least GG Z has a US DVD release, if you're that interested. You shouldn't be. Trust me. But more on where Kankatsu-Hen goes even furtherly wrong in a bit; I need to finish ripping the plot apart.

So, Amano Jyaku saves Akemi, and then leaves her with Megumi to have a little chat with the Good Ship Chojin. He's met with a welcoming party that includes a giant tentacle that shoots lasers, and a mask-less, laser-less shinjin who fires lasers out of its eyes shouting "ena!" As if the sentai-esque version wasn't gay enough, this fruity little number literally looks like a Sailormoon extra villain. I wish I was joking. I really, really do. Amano Jyaku gives it a Kyo-O Brand Enema, and it blows up. Yeah... Amano should have kicked it's ass regardless of Himi's energy hanging around, waiting to be focused in to a psyonic nut-punch. If there's anything good going on here, it's that to control its children the Chojin's commander becomes a hermaphrodite and literally fucks itself while it chants. This is exactly the sort of freaked out insanity I'd expect from Urotsukidoji, and it would have been even cooler of the animation... actually matched. The lighting and poses change so randomly I honestly thought it was 2 characters for a while. (More on THAT later...) Anyway, "Ena" gets its ass kicked, and the herm-thing keels over dead, at which point we see a glowing ball of energy... the very core of the Chojin.

Many people - thanks to the Urotsukidoji FAQ (a mostly handy resource, I'll admit) and Wikipedia - believe that the androge/hermaphrodite thing is, infact, the Chojin. They're wrong. The glowing ball of energy deep inside the spaceship is the heart and mind of the Chojin. The ship itself is the vehicle which pushes the gods will forward. Being a god - and this isn't a bad theory in and of itself - doesn't mean you need to have a physical form. Now, if that's the case, why is Himi trapped in the body of a little girl? While the Chojin being a buff form of Nagumo didn't make too much sense (apart from the ideals of the Chojin and Kyo-O; the Chojin was male, the Kyo-O female), having the Chojin be a massive spaceship that spits out children makes far less sense with the Kyo-O just being... Himi. They are God and Devil, Yin and Yang, and there's no explanation for this? What the freakin' hell?! Anyway, it needs to be noted that this innacuracy is a common misconception, and an easy one unless you translate the dialogue the whole way through. The andoroges are simply the children of the Chojin's will; the Chojin itself is a giant Freudian spaceship that performs the will of it's creamy green center.

...god damn I wish I was making this up.

So, the Chojin tells Amano Jyaku that the new world will come with him in it or not, and ejaculates him out in to the world below. The final scene is an apocalyptic nightmare of epic proportions... on a small budget, anyway. Shinjin armies mow down human, beast and demonkind alike, Nagumo continues to level the remaining shelters of Japan, and Amano stands triumphantly on the remains of his world, telling the Chojin that he will defeat him... one way or another.

Cue dramatic music, awesome title card, credits.

With the storytelling out of the way, let me explain the other big problem Urotsukidoji Kankatsu-Hen has to contend with; bad animation. When I say "bad", I mean both "inconsistant" and "unfinished". While the first 15 minutes is pretty boss - including unique CGI aided transformation sequences and a fairly cool erotic birthing sequence (never before has spewing green pussy juice been THAT hot), things go downhill with Nagumo, when he sometimes has his tentacles and sometimes doesn't. This is a problem that the original and Mirai-Hen never seemed to have; Nagumo's cocks are pretty goddamn noticable, being a mile long a piece, and just not animating them at random says to me your animation staff has pretty poor checks going on. But that's not the half of it. A bigger problem is the color check, where Amano's skin tone changes from a pale yellow that's more befitting of old paper or maybe a corpse, to an ugly orange color that looks like Hulk Hogan was used as the color model. Orange Goblin indeed. The random moments they do get his skin color right appear to be purely accidental, and while you can argue lighting effects to a certain degree, the only scenes that are right are nighttime/dark scenes... so... what the fuck?

Here's a picture showing off Amano's many chameleon-like skin colors:

Seriously... what the hell is going on here? The LEAST they could do is get his character model right once or twice.

Another problem is that the animation for a few scenes was clearly never finished. While Urotsukidoji was never afraid to include video editing to what was a shot on film OVA - basically the way all OVA's are edited - the editing here includes bad slow-motion, random still shots that are clearly just paused, and most importantly the scene where a father goes crazy and tries to kill his kids, only to be stabbed in the eye with chopsticks and jump out a window, is clearly from a workprint - as is the scene of the Chojin in the sky preceding this sequence. Animation workprints (called animatics) will usually include the lead animation cels - so a guy getting punched might only be 2 frames or so - and this is given to the voice actors to give their performance. When they're done, the animation is completed with the help of a fill in animator, who animates the other 20 or so frames of the punch. The scene with dad going crazy is taken from a badly scratched and dirty film print, which (interestingly...) is usually how workprints look. While bad video editing happens in earlier Urotsukidoji productions - Buju having fun at Aeris' orgy in OVA 10 is a great example - the show was never so cheap it literally didn't finish it's animation. I wish I could say for sure why this happened, but I can only give a few general theories, which may or may not be accurate:

Inferno Road finished 2 episodes, and many months later made a third episode without most of the original staff. The general theory on this is that Inferno Road did very poorly, and they decided to kill off the franchise before it did any more damage. But I find it VERY hard to believe that the last Inferno Road video did so much better on the last episode that it prompted the creative team to decide to start the sequels over again from scratch. While as I've said, you CAN'T totally forget that Mirai-Hen and Inferno Road-Hen happened (with Himi being there and all), it does start over on many levels, bringing Nagumo (in horny Dai Kaiju form) and Akemi back in to focus, gives Amano his 'traditional' duds back instead of those neat post-apocalypse shoulderpads he started sporting after the three worlds started to get fux0red up, and Buju and his nakemono crew are simply nowhere to be found. I think the problem was less a matter of Buju and co. and Himi than it was a general lack of focus following the defeat of Caesar in the last episode of Mirai-Hen. There was a whole slew of cool stuff to follow that was implicit in that final scene: Buju and Alector's child becoming the first Shinjin, the Chojin preparing an army of followers to stop them at every turn, and perhaps most importantly, Amano Jyaku's total inconsequence to the battle. It's likely that, having seen that the Chojin was anything but good, he would have sided with Himi to protect any semblance of humanity and life left, in his own special way (ie; from the sidelines, but more than happy to bust some heads should people piss him off). But that was assuming he ever believed the Chojin had lied. Really, if the Chojin is set to come back every 3,000 years (let's assume that's the case), then humanity would be wiped out on a regular basis. The Chojin is merely the universe's reset button, sort of a Ctrl-Alt-Delete for the three realms as a whole. Knowing this was the truth (as Suikakujyu knew), why would Amano be suprised? Perhaps the utopia after the inferno would be worth it, but more likely than not humanity would start out kinda' cool, and then fall to sin and vice again like it always does. The thing is, Amano should know this - as most viewers had probably figured out. That's why in both Uro 3 and 4, he watches. He had more than one chance to kill Himi, yet he didn't. All of Inferno Road, he was siding with the kawaii little underdog, hoping she'd live, even if that wouldn't fit in with the Chojin's plan... he knew the future was as much in her hands as the Chojin's, and decided to see what an innocent god would do versus an old and clearly ornery one. This is a mission of personal morbid curiosity, not of faith. Amano seems to only get all righeous when it's his own ass on the line. While this may fit in with his character, the dialogue he's given to sum it up does not. "Give me back Kuroro! Give me back Megumi!" he screamed when he launched his assault on Nagumo in the original Urotsukidoji. His concern wasn't the future of humanity, or even himself; it was on the people he loved. For Amano to suddenly proclain "human lives are not the god's playthings!" seems... rather redundant. Perhaps they were trying to change Amano from an anti-hero in to an actual hero. If so, they failed. Hard.

Other problems arise from the basic principles behind the general story. For one thing, the Kyo-O is all but non-existant; instead, Amano has learned how to chanel the energy left behind by Himi to kick some shinjin ass. This isn't a bad concept, but it does beg the question; does this mean that the Kyo-O legend was a lie? Where there is a God, so too must there be a Devil. Where there is the Chojin, there is the Kyo-O. Not anymore baby! So, what did I miss? Is Amano Jyaku the new Kyo-O? If so, is that the most convoluted bullshit story ever? Not quite. The bigger problem is that everything promised at the end of the original Urotsukidoji, which this theoretically follows, is also a lie - or at least a half-truth. The Chojin's eradication of all life is no big suprise, but that he'd willingly put the smackdown on Amano and nearly kill him implies that anything the Chojin has said prior is full of crap. Making this exceptionally hard to judge is wither or not the Chojin is really a "god" at all. Himi notes that the Chojin's revival means the eradication of all life in the 3 realms, but what then? With all the souls of humans and demons running around, it looks like the cycle has been pushed through time and time again. In short, Amano fighting the Chojin is an effort in futility, something that the original Urotsukidoji seemed to be set against. It's almost suprising that they didn't include a single shot of Amano standing in a glorious utopia after the end credits... but hell, the apocalyptic ending had more potential to make money, and that's exactly what they did. The shocking "Hell on Earth" conclusion is neither shocking, nor does it seem fitting to the tone of everything that came before it - something that may have worked itself out, had this aborted show produced all 4 of its intended episodes. While I think the cheapest copout imaginable was exactly what we were handed in Inferno Road 3 - in which the Chojin drank a drop of Himi's blood and the world was simply turned back to the time before the entire story happened - but belaboring the obvious and crossing it with the retarded, while less of a copout, isn't much better overall.

In short, the problem is a common enough problem in film, but personified; there was an endless number of cool concepts that COULD have been used, and none of them actually hit the screen. Those that are interesting (in a horrendously dumb sort of way), such as the Chojin being a disembodied voice in a giant creature producing bio-mechanical warship, the "perfect" genderless and/or hermaphroditic Shinjin, and the idea of all races looking down the barrel of existance all had some potential. If Buju and Alector's lovechild isn't an option (AND WHY THE HELL NOT?!), what about heading back to the origin of the Demon Womb and whatever the hell that altar thing was that contained Buju's sword? Clearly this thing was Chojin Bane to some degree (being infused with Takeaki's blood, etc.), so why isn't it brought up at all? How about the idea that the Chojin was a benevolent God and after so many reincarnations it's just lost its godly mind? Where did the Chojin followers go? Surely there would be plenty of cultists in whatever timeframe this ridiculous thing takes place in; would it be wrong to think they'd create an army to protect their beloved spaceship of sex and be "perfected" in it's womb in to ultra-makemono thingies or something? In the end, this raises so many more questions than it answers that, much like Gedou Gakuen Z, it exists only to further confuse the shit out of the viewer rather than explain anything.

Plus, why the hell did they give us D9, Itaden, Gashimo and Rudol in Mirai-Hen if nothing was ever done with them? Genocydroid D9 kicked some notable ass at the end of Mirai-Hen, and in Inferno Road his sole duty was to be blown to bits. Equally, Idaten and Rudol are basically walking pieces of meat, while at the very least Gashimo - a sort of aincent philosipher, even though makemono have only existed since Nagumo's inferno 20 years prior (regardless if you believe Overfiend's 198X or Demon Womb's 199X timeline) - provides the role of walking exposition. They could have at least had a completely not-hawt gay orgy, or something. Justify the presence of tentacles, damnit. But doesn't the lack of tapped possibilites just sum up Horo-Hen: Inferno Road and it's bastardly lost offspring?

Now, all this having been said... Urotsukidoji fans - and you know who you are - need to see this. Despite it's badness, there's a lot of awesomely bad things going on here, in terms of story, animation, and sheer stunning retardation. Bad cinema shouldn't be fun and amusing, but if it weren't, Uwe Boll and Paul W. S. Anderson would be out of work, and you know how much I love seeing Boll punch people in the face. Urotsukidoji deserved to go out with a bang, not a whimper, and while it's arguable that the best place to stop was the dramatic and open-ended final scene of Nagumo leveling the world before Amano Jyaku (not so different than the oft-chastised ending of the Matrix trilogy; 'The more things change...') was all that needed to be said and done, I think ending the story at any point prior to the end of Inferno Road would have been acceptable. Either the Chojin's final battle is a totally underwhelming - and frankly dumb - moment of totally symbolic intellectual douchebaggery, or it's a poorly animated and contradictory series of events that logically shouldn't happen. I'm not sure which is 'worse', but I do know which one is more interesting. I'd rather have an hour of bad animation that makes me laugh and occasionally want to punch the screenwriters than something that merely peters out and has nowhere else to go. Even if the final episode had launched ahead to Himi and co. arriving at Osaka (no explanation, no fucking air worm...) and followed with an hour of battles leading up to that final moment of bullshit, it would have been all right. Hell, even have the Chojin drink the blood and then just STOP. No back in time, no trying sooo hard to get all the continuities and cycles the show goes through to line up... you could even have cut to that aforementioned shot of paradise, quote "O Arrogant Humanity" one last time and have been done with it. ANYTHING but implying that the last several hours of epic animation were literally a waste of time.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh on Urotsukidoji: The Final Chapter... well, I probably am. But remember that I've also translated it, and I'm currently working out the details on releasing it to the general public. I got my hands on the Japanese LD for the best transfer possible, and I'm about to totally re-translate the 7 minute opening sequence cut from the German print that a handfull of Urotsukidoji fanboys (like myself) have so coveted. I had high hopes for the sequels after Demon Womb set the standard pretty high, and while Return of fluctuates in quality and logic from time to time, it's overall a well animated, well written, and highly entertaining story that easily bitchslaps the competition (ie; early 90's tentacle porn) with a steady pimp hand back to its rightful place next to any likable but mentally defunct shows with "Darkness" in their title. Inferno Road had - in my opinion - far higher production values than Return of, but the story was totally unfocused, and largely unrelated to everything set before it. When for whatever reason Inferno Road failed, the episode returned to the quality and style of Return of, but lacking a talented storyteller like Noburo AIKAWA the characters and mythology imploded until they basically dusted off a (probably) dead character to end the show as quickly and cheaply as possible. The Final Chapter couldn't even keep up to the level of respectability and bare minimums set down in the "let's nip this in the bud" attempt to make fans happy for one last outing. It's a shame, really... the show could have taken off if it didn't feel like it was slapped together at the last second by a company that couldn't find it's dick with both hands and a flashlight.

For better or worse, Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji is a classic as powerful as anything animated in the 1980's - every bit as ground breaking as Akira, Vampire Hunter D, Robot Carnival, Macross: Do You Remember Love, Royal Space Force or anything else that genuinely broke new ground in what genres, subjects, and level of artistic freedom was allowed in animation during the aforementioned Golden Age of Anime. Despite the underwhelming remake released in 2002, which was planned for 13 episodes but canceled after just 3 due to disinterest, Urotsukidoji is a classic in every sense of the word and consistently sports better storytelling and animation than hentai - and indeed non adult animation - produced to this very day. If you're a fan, in any way, then this 'Lost' episode is a must see. It's a fascinating and misguided look at what could have (but probably shouldn't have) been. For fans of Amano Jyaku and his relationship with the Chojin, all parts of this brilliant piece of animation are worth seeing. Worth worshipping, no. But worth seeing, absolutely.

I'm not going to lie to any of you. The Final Chapter of Urotsukidoji isn't a lost masterpiece. It's a lost, disfigured, stillborn featus that's clawed its way back from the grave to haunt anyone that never knew it existed, but knew it's famous parent. It's a freakshow attraction, something that raises pity, disgust and fascination at every scene. It's something that, despite being a wretched and forlorn freak of nature that would have been happier dead, isn't. It survived long enough to show the world its true form, to show that it had some great miniature diamonds buried in it's general exterior of dog feces. It's a historic and fascinating experiment that went horribly, horribly wrong, and for that reason alone it should be seen. Reviled, beloved, cast aside, understood - whatever. But everyone who saw the remake and went "well, can't get any worse than that..." doesn't have a clue, and needs to see this to see exactly what couldn't get any worse. The worst part is, if you're a fan of Urotsukidoji to begin with, you've seen all sorts of crazy shit. And in terms of just being an outlandish, jaw dropping, never-say-die unbelievable piece of shit, it's pretty hard to beat. I think I dig it on that level alone.

I can only hope eBay feels the same way about this amazingly bad piece of animated filth as I do.

ERRATA: It's been brought to my attention that an early failed translation on my part means the title of this episode is actually "Urotsukidoji Kanketsu-Hen", not "Kankatsu-Hen" as the above article states. Well... these things happen.