Friday, May 26, 2006

Remastering and Rethinking what I buy.

So Full Metal Jacket is out on HD-DVD.

I don't own that disk. Nor the hardware to play it. And yet I'm pretty much the target audience for it. So what do I do in situations like this? I let others make that educated guess for me and review their asses off. And the reviews aren't giving me a lot of hope.

On the one hand, Full Metal Jacket was never meant to be an aural or visual symphony: the film was shot with a flat, soft pallete and released in mono sound, which in 1987 was pretty rare. The age of the blockbuster was in full swing, and Kubrick just wasn't interested. He wanted his war film to look like the TV news footage that was most familiar with those growing up during the Vietnam War. The film is claustrophobic, grainy, overcast... not pretty in the slightest. And short of filming it on 16mm, it was as close to authentic as you were going to get.

The aspect ratio - something I've bitched about prior - is also an interesting problem. Kubrick knew the film would be matted, to 1.66:1 in Europe and 1.85:1 in the States. Regardless, he shot the film at 1.37:1, so that it could be shown on home video and on TV without being cropped (and partly, I assume, to make the TV News footage illusion all the more complete once it had run it's theatrical course). Kubrick filmed open-matte so that the films weren't butchered beyond recognition on the old square TV sets of the 20th century. But it's a new era, and TV's are now nice and wide to accomidate movies in their original widescreen aspect ratios.

Or, that's the theory anyway.

Full Metal Jacket is presented on HD-DVD at 1.78:1, which is basically the original US theatrical ratio. (A little too tall - it should be matted to 1.85:1 technically, but close enough, I guess.) It's also presented only with the 5.1 made for the DVD, when they easily could have slipped a (compresed!) mono audio track strictly to make wacko's like me happy. But they didn't. They also could have included the fullscreen version in "standard" DVD quality as an extra (since the disk only has the theatrical trailer). They didn't. So, here's the real question: does it LOOK any better than the DVD?

I don't own an HDTV. But I can do basic math. DVD's have 720x480 pixels. HD-DVD has 1920x1080 pixels. Assuming you start with film - which has way more detail than HD too - an HD transfer should always look better than an SD transfer.

...and all the reviews so far have said that the HD print looks only marginally better - if at all - than a well encoded anamorphic DVD.

While I know for a fact that movies like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and Land of the Dead will look fantastic with 6 times the resolution of an over-filtered and badly compressed DVD, films that don't look too hot on DVD already aren't going to look 6 times better than the already fuzzy SD version. Don't get me wrong, I'm an anal sociopath and I'll spend my cash on the best version available every chance I get... but if you already own the DVD, and you think it's just fine, even I'm not going to convince you that you're totally, without a doubt better off buying it again.

I'm also fascinated what's going to happen on BD (Blu-Ray) and HD (HD-DVD) releases for overtly long movies. Just today I was poking at that lovely KINGDOM OF HEAVEN extended director's cut. Sounds like a hell of a set: the 3 hours of the film split across 2 disks, with another 2 disks worth of extras. For $30, how can you turn that shit down?

But this is the real question: how many BD's or HD's will the film be across when it hits High Definition? (I'm not going to sit there and say "studio X supports Y format" - this is all a theoretical argument, and most studios are supporting both now anyhow.) In much the same way that a Laserdisc could only fit a 2 hour movie on 2 sides minimum, this giving DVD the straigfht forward advantage of being able to stay on your lazy ass longer and enjoy a movie without flipping, BD/HD may make those long Hollywood epics that are in such high fashion now a breeze in that the whole film is only on 1 disk. 'Course... this begs the question to how many hours worth of "acceptable" quality can you fit on a BD or an HD? With most HD's being 30 gigs and most first-run BD's being 25 gigs (with 50 or so gigabyte options at a higher retail) , it's clear that a 2 hour movie and suppliments can fit nice and snug. But what about a 3 hour movie with another 3 hours of extras?

In the case of HD, it's hard to say. With bitrates about 4 times that of a current DVD (with the maximum topping out at close to 40 mbps rather than DVD's 10 mbps) and only 3 times the space of a DVD-9, things just aren't adding up in to HD's favor. The advantage here is that since most extras are kept at standard DVD resolution (and thus standard DVD file size) the extras on the disk now take up a comparitively smaller portion, letting the compression on the film itself be far less than a DVD with 3 gigs or so of extras, and then only 6 gigs left to give the movie. Moreover, DVD's have been doing 2 disk (and 3 and 4) special editions more or less since the start, so should a movie run a particularl long time the extras could still be shuffled off on to a second disk - even a standard definition DVD should the studios choose - and nobody's likely to complain.

But what about BD? What about it's 40% more space, and it's more expensive production cost? This means that multi-disk editions are a no-go, and with a dual-layer BD you still end up with less space than a 2-disk HD set has. Sure, the BD could get the whole film - even a 3 hour film like Kingdom of Heaven - hopefully with extras, all on 1 disk... but at what retail? Surely not for $30 at Wal-Mart like the current DVD, not if comparitivelty short films like UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION with it's fluff-extras are going to sell for $40 retail.

So with DVD's selling at a few dollars over their wholesale price, and word that the kind of movies I'd actually WANT on HD/BD don't look much better than the DVD I already own, it's getting harder and harder to get a big ol' harbl at the thought of rebuying my entire library in those gay little pint-size keepcases, all with more resolution to show off how blurry the original film masters for low budget exploitation films really are. Sure, space is a premium and all that, but come on... DVD cases were the PERFECT size for this sort of thing, and how - how I ask you! - are you going to squeeze a worth-while booklet in to that package?

Media Blasters' even said at Anime Boston scant days ago thatthey're not going to be releasing anything in HD for a while. The formats are still too experimental, too risky to put in the investment 'till they've proven their worth down the road. This is paraphrasing, but I wasn't there, so. Sorry. Much as Sirabella's often not my favorite guy in the world to buy movies from... he's got a point. Remember D-VHS? No? What about Beta? Do kids these days even know what a Laserdisc is? Fuck, even -I- don't bother checking if any players can play VCD's: DivX compatability is more handy in this frighteningly digital age. Formats come and formats go, and in time DVD will die off too... but who's to say that BD and HD will be the next DVD, even 5 or 10 years down the line?

Maybe this will all be sorted out once... hell, I dunno'. Once the HDMI standard is fixed enough that you can use all of those new audio codecs? Maybe once some GOOD movies are out on HD? Maybe once BD so much as comes out? ...nah'. DVD's been around for a decade, and there's still a million and one ways to fuck those up.

That having been said, I recently saw the" steelpack" (or 'Steelbook', if you're German) package used for the new BOONDOCK SAINTS special edition, a packaging change I'm for once grateful for. I demand more movie cases I can beat people over the head with, without damaging the disks inside. I want to see that skull dent, baby!

So, all that ranting out of the way, let me say a few words about my job. I can't say much, since I've sworn secrcey to my boss, but I've moved on from "subtitle editor" to "subtitle translator". Kick-ass! The first film I'm working on, a cheap underground gore movie released by JVD in 1999 (you do the math... if you know me, you can probably guess), and with a runtime of just under 70 minutes and a mimimum of dialogue - what with those long scenes of bleeding and screaming - I was able to translate it in about 12 hours, with a 2 hour check session the next day. Now, the question is how well did I do? I've translated plenty of hentai, a hand full of making-of and interview segments, and I can read manga like Devilman, Fist of the North Star and Dragonball without needing my kanji dictionary anymore. But that doesn't mean I'm fluent, a word that doesn't mean much unless you were a white guy who grew up in Japan, more often than not. Still, with dialogue like this:

C'mon mister, get it up or you're disqualified!

You even ruined my little puppy!

I'm willing to be disgraced... but only for the money.

...how can I not do well? Hopefully the Japanese proof-reader will see that I'm not pulling translations out of my dick hole, and then I can get loved with money about twice as hard as I am now.

Maybe I'll be able to wax poetic abouut movies next month. Been a rough month, and I'm not afraid to say that I currently have no money, and no milk, but plenty of cereal. Yep'. That would explain why BLUES HARP was one of the few reviews, though be prepared for me to wax poetic about some truly frightening pinku films shortly.

Mmmm. Pinku.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

PAL is -always- 10 in IVTC damnit! + Blues Harp

Or, so I thought... *DUN DUN DUN-N-N-N-N!*

So yeah, Bethmaan's uncut composite version of EROTIKILL: FEMALE VAMPIRE is a wreck that was pasted together with tooth paste and a jigsaw. I was expecting that. What I wasn't expecting was that the blowjob footage would actually be taken from 2 different sources and faded in to the better looking softcore master. It's not a big deal... if you like your transfers interlaced. I don't. I like a nice progressive film-like transfer that looks twice as sexy on PCs and HDTVs. It also gives me a longer NTSC-friendly runtime when converting PAL, where an interlaced transfer doesn't so much 'change' the framerate from PAL's 25 fps back to NTSC's 23.97 (basically FILM24 fps) as it does mangle the framerate to a point where it plays at the same speed by either dropping frames, creating frames, combining frames together or a mix of all 3. This gives you a soft, jerky, "ghosting" transfer and should be avoided at all costs.

The video equipment that Bethmaan used makes the inserted hardcore clips change their telecine order. In simple terms, the usual "good frame, bad frame" pattern didn't work, and I had to fix the inserts manually. A pain in the ass, sure. But now I have a version that not only runs 10 minutes longer than the US, but it looks as good as is humanly possible. (Which is not particularly.) I also learned that the X-CESS DVD isn't the same as the X-RATED DVD. Not at all. See, the older release had a booklet, a 10 minute special on Jesus Franco, and only included the hardcore version in fairly good quality due to the lack of other extras. The new version includes a more compressed (ie: not as nice looking) version of the hardcore cut, a better looking transfer of the Director's Cut, alternate openings, alternate footage, and a bunch of trailers. So, Bethmaan didn't screw over his X-rated customers totally. Just me.

Bastard.

Still, the X-CESS print is only so-so to begin with having lots of VHS sourced crap footage, and I've owned plenty of Bethmaan's disks: none of them look all that amazing. So the bootleg version I'll release will go according to plan. It'll also be strictly in German with 1 scene in French, because... well, I cut together a "perfect" version, in French with the German hardcore scenes. It looked like shit. It still had German dialogue in the inserts. And most importantly, the hardcore version uses totally different takes of certain scenes, so I ended up showing some scenes twice, even when the patchwork nature of the hard version wasn't supposed to. So the best I can do is crop out the German subtitles on the print, get the frame rate right, and shake my head as I see where Bethmaan totally screwed the pooch on where shots go. Not that I blame the guy: I've made composites. It's like 8 bitches on a bitch boat bitching you up your bitch hole. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't have double checked.

Anyway, my end of this production is done aside from the relatively more simple audio pitching so that it doesn't lose synch at random. Now I just have to wait for my German translator to do his thing and give me a translation of what the hell the German dub is saying in English. Assuming he doesn't instantaneously hate the film as much as I do and refuse to ever be my friend again. But after taping that 25 pound box of Japanese porno tapes for him... well, maybe it'll all ballance out.

So, with Erotikill out of the way I can talk about good movies for a while. I watched another Miike flick last night. That'll be... lessee... the 21st Miike film I've seen so far. Yeah. Scary isn't it? He keeps making them, I keep watching them, and so far I haven't disliked a one. I've been underwhelmed with ONE MISSED CALL, and I've been avoiding stuff I know sucks ass like SILVER and ANDROMEDIA somewhat intentionally. But even these films couldn't make me dislike the man and what he does. Miike Takashi is less a man and more a director, one who has produced up to 9 separate films in 1 year, most likely at the expense of health, and friends and general human nature. He's also a complete and utter psychopath, taking scripts where characters shoot at each other and deciding on the last day of production "that sucks. Pull a fire ball out of your chest and we'll destroy the whole planet instead." I'm not kidding. But more important is the fact that he's a GOOD film maker. Guys like Jesus Franco, Joe D'amato (RIP) and Roger Corman can churn out dozens of bad films in a month with the right funding. Miike usually works with a limited budget, but every single one of his films rises above their often broke-ass V-Cinema origins. He injects life in to his crazy characters, has an insane sense of style in to his camerawork, and more often than not does gross, funny things just to fuck with people ranging from bestiality to disembodied nipples to talking hand puppets coming out of people's heads. He's a master showman, and even when he's directing family musicals and serious hard-boiled yakuza movies, he manages to slip in dancing zombies or random acts of urination. It's just the kinda' guy Miike is, and I couldn't be happpier for that insanity.

So that having been said, I'll admit that my experience with the yakuza genre is pretty limited. I've seen one or two Beat Kitano films and a hand full of Takashi Ishii extravaganza's including his amazingly cool film Gonin. But Miike's yakuza films - and by which I mean movies focusing on yakuza that don't include costumed serial killers or cow headed demons - are tremendously cool. Often quiet and sedated, they're filled to the brim with a sweaty gritty sense of the apocalypse, in which no matter how hard you try to do what's right, no matter how good you are... in the end, a yakuza lives and dies by his trade, as do all those that their lives touch. With films ranging from the sedate and depressing a remake of Fukusaku "Battle Royale" Kinji's own Graveyard of Honor ro the massive and later broken in to a mini-series Agitator to the quiet and almost cute Rainy Dog entry in the Black Society Trilogy (the other 2 of which I'll admit to not having seen yet), Miike's world of Yakuza isn't the brightly colored take no prisoners acition thrill rides you may have seen from other directors. That isn't to say there aren't exceptions; the D.O.A trilogy is probably Miike's most insanely over the top set of films in his long list of over the top films, and were in and of themselves meant to be satire's of yakuza, John Woo gunplay and post-Matrix high flying wirefu films. There are also his unrestrained manga adaptations like Ichi the Killer and Fudoh: The New Generation. And I don't know WHAT to call "Yakuza Horror Theater GOZU" other than exactly what it is. So it's with this range of possibilities in mind that I popped in BLUES HARP the other night.

Good news is that's 21/21 of Miike films I've enjoyed. The lead is Chuji, a half black-half Japanese son of an American GI and a whore born in Yokohama. Growing up in an orphenage he ended up being the bartender at a sleazy place called the Cheep Side, and one night after saving a girl named Tokiko from being molested by a pair of drunken whiteys he meets a yakuza small fry in an alley on his break, and tells the local faction he deals drugs for he hasn't seen him. This small fry, Koiji, owes Chuji his life and swears to repay him for it.

What Chuji doesn't know is that he and Tokiko are going to fall in love, and that Kouji doesn't know is that his boss' wife is willing to sell her husband out, and so while Chuji and Tokiko move in - Chuji's natural loner rock 'n' blues lifestyle suddenly usurped by the grinning plush toy loving of the sort of cute little woman only Japan could have spawned, Kouji starts doing the boss' wife and comes up with a plan to kill his boss, inherit the gang, and then convince the second in command of his rival to do the same. United, they could rule everything in their path... but only if they can find a fall guy. Meanwhile, the band leader - an awesome rockabilly dude no less - feels it's time to move on and take care of his ailing parents' business. That leaves the band empty, alone... and so, Chuji's mad harmonica skillz save the day. He rocks so hard that a record company scout wants to give him a deal... but if the yakuza comes forward and says he's a dealer, his career would be over before he hummed his first note.

With Koji setting in to motion a plan to take down the head of both gangs, and Chuji trapped in the middle of both of them, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this movie isn't going to end particularly well for anybody. With the apocalyptic, heart broken endings of the yakuza movie a genre convention it's only amatter of how hard everyone involved will fall, and more importantly, how stylish the ride to get to that point is. While nowhere near as out there as his later films like Ichi the Killer or D.O.A, Blues Harp has a definate style that's best expressed in the film's soundtrack. Using 'live' performances from the Cheep Side stage, these range from great rockabilly tunes to horrendously bad J-Rap performed by the saddest Jigger this side of Orgasmo. All the same, thesongs and performers are as varried as the people in the film and the situations they find themselves in, and it makes a good contrast. The film's opening, a dramatic and slowly building succession of cuts between the excited activitiy at the bar and the violence in the streets is not only reminiscent of D.O.A (though this film was released in 1997, a few years before that masterpiece of excess), but the film rarely tries to top this opening number which is meant more to draw you in than it is to set you up to be thrilled for an hour and 45 minutes. That's not what Miike does. He shocks and amazes, but he does it by doing bad things to good people, and when the film does heat up - a perfect example is when Chuji has a gun in his hand and is waiting for the moment to do what he has to in order to save what he already has - is as gorgeous as it is heart breaking. While perhaps not the "ultimate" Miike yakuza eiga (that'd probably be AGITATOR, or maybe even DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA), but it's a pleasing one, and one I'm glad I got to see.

Want to see it for yourself? Hit me up. It's only available on DVD (legitly) with subtitles in Germany, so the disk has the usual NTSC-PAL issues: jerkiness, softness, edge enhancement. If NTSC is your thing Cannibal King also did a DVD release using the original Japanese R2 transfer (none of this non-anamorphic recompressed crap like his ZEBRAMAN and IZO releases), not sure if the subs are original or just a rip of the German release. The subtitles on the AFN disk wasn't half bad anyhow, so it's worth grabbing if you like Miike and his schtick.

Remember. MIIKE is the Japanese word for GOD. Not Kami, though that is a common enough mistake.

And I'm off to find a new program to make audio files for Erotikill. Good god I'd forgotten what a horrendous pain in the ass proper PAL-NTSCp24 was, particularly with nothing better than BeSweet to make them with.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Xcess - not Xcessive enough? + Death Powder!

So I got my first XCESS DVD today.

Bethmaan, Bethmaan... you're not even trying to hide it this time. Just like RELAX, it's you and we all know it. But while Anthropophagous is banned in Germany, thus giving him a good reason to be secretive about who really released it, he released Erotikill before. So... he's just being a jackass and trying to convince his customers that those limited X-Rated packages were worth what they payed.

First off, the package is pretty nice: it comes in the expected hardbox, but not the inch taller than a keepcase and about 50% wider hardbox we're used to: this is a slimmer, more compact hardbox that on closer inspection, is the exact same size as a standard keepcase. I doubt it could fit 2 disks, but aside from that I think Bethmaan's finally gotten the "where the hell do I store this honkin' thing?!" problem figured out. (That having been said, I fully expect him to announce another Grossehartbox - Big Hard Box, heh-heh - any day now. Those are TWICE the size of a nomal hardbox, and frankly, you could kill a man with one if you were clever.) It's similar in design to the other Bethmaan releases: simple, but tells you everything you want to know pretty quickly, and the front cover is actually quite lovely. And I usually hate modern "photoshop the hell out of every photo we've got" packages. It's Hardbox number 05. Which is weird, since I'm pretty sure this is the first XCESS disk. Unless he'll be releasing more older X-Rated DVD's and this is his way of keeping track of which one. It's also numbered to 500, and I got 148. Not that it matters. But I still like it.

The disk itself is a DVD-9 (Dual Layer), and the image on the front is the same as the "blue" hardbox the X-Rated release had. It looks pretty cheap, and makes me feel a lot better about my own disk label designs. Cheesy bastard.

On to the disk: Everybody who bitched about the quality on the German Hardcore needs to chill. Seriously. Apart from another Bethmaan trademark, a crappy video generated title card, the print is -identical- to the "Director's Cut" included as the main feature. Which, for the record, looks about identical to the R1 release from Image Entertainment, apart from not being anamorphically enhanced and being PAL. The hardcore version includes about 11 minutes (!) worth of hardcore footage... and depending on what you're in to, this is either a blessing or a curse that will make your eyes cry tears of feces laced menstural blood.

There are a total of 5 insert scenes. But Franco only filmed 4. The second insert blowjob is used again during the film's finale, this time tinted a different color. Because as cheap hentai has taught us, tint the flick a different color and it's TOTALLY not the same footage. Like. Seriously. They're all to the same uncircumcized cock, and while he's got decent girth, this isn't Ron Jeremy by any stretch. Most importantly Romay BITES the fucking hell out of that poor dude's dork! Holy hell... I know she's in character and all that, and maybe those who still possess their turtle neck can put up with teeth chomping in to them, but just watching it makes my buddy chafe. *Shudder* And I thought getting head from Lina Romay would be a good thing... ah well, watch and learn. There's also an insert pussy licking. Of the most horriffic vagina I think I've seen in trashy EuroCine yet. Good god, can you clean your eyes out with mouth wash?

Anyway, the hardcore footage is definately taken from a tape source, probably VHS. It's letterboxed to 2.35:1 (like the rest of the film) and has a little bit of print damage, but it doesn't look like the film was shoved up anybody's pooper and then telecined on a barf bag like the alternate German opening in the extras section. You can see what's going on just fine, and the fact that the print is so much as watchable is a blessing. Sort of. Anyway, the film is definately NOT better with the inserts like I'd hoped, but it's definately a lot funnier, and a lot scarier. Neither of which were Franco's intentions... I don't think. *Shrug* The opening scene has Romay smacking the camera with her face, so who knows what sort of divine manifesto this crazy Spaniard works from.

The disk is typical Bethmaan: cool packaging, a host of alternate footage, a so-so AV presentation and a terrible film. (Why the HELL am I trying to bid on the VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD hardbox LE?) I may trash on the guy, but it was with the hard earned money I don't have that I got this damned thing, so I must not hate him too much. Or Franco. Despite that the hardcore version seems to have made my poor wife hate it even more.

Definately a decent enough print to bootleg, anyway. I'll probably make my own composite though, primarily in French (the film's original language) with German inserts, and which title card is still up in the air. A LES AVALEUSES card would be totally tits, but I only have German and a hand full of English title cards, so it may well end up being THE BARE BREASTED COUNTESS. I might even just get lazy and keep it in German. Haven't decided yet. Definately making it NTSC friendly though, so Franco fans around the world can see the horror of Lina Romay biting nasty hairy pussy for themselves.



I also watched the rarely seen Japanese psycho-tronic DEATH POWDER.

Now, it should be noted that there are several different kinds of cinematic weird. Not all films - or directors - fit in to one form of weird. (Miike has been known to CREATE new kinds of weird, for instance.) But I'll try to sum up what I see as the 3 most important kinds of weird...

Kubrick Weird: Not nessicarily a style employed only by Kubrick, but he does it well. He takes real situations, madness and war and obsession, and creates whole films about their effects on people. Symbolism is almost always there, but the film can work on a logical, straight forward level too. The weirdness is there to compliment the story, not be it.

Jodorowsky Weird: Films who's symbolism IS the film. El Topo, Izo, Fear and Loathing is Las Vegas and so many more films are all tracing their roots back to surrealism, in which logic and flow is less important that the images you see and the emotions you feel, though the stories therein can still be taken at face value, if you really feel the need. These movies are cinematic art in a very true sense, and use their stories as a spring board for imagery, no more, no less.

Tsukamoto Weird: This is where Death Powder fits in. Not content to even use a story as it's backdrop, these films assault and disorient the shit out of the viewer who's story is literally only there (or not there) long enough to give context to the film which is currently skull-fucking your reality. Some great examples of this are Subconscious Cruelty, Tetsuo: Iron Man, and Uzumaki. These are films who are trying to entertain, sure, but what they really do is bore straight in to your brain and scramble it 'till it pours out your ear in a fine paste. And that's good eatin'.

As such, I'll sum up the story for Death Powder as simply as I can: a pair of bounty hunters are hired to get rid of a scientist who created an imperfect android for a pack of skeleton Nazi yakuza known as the Scar People. As the scientist tries to complete his work, the two bounty hunters kick his ass, only to learn that they too are on the Scar People's list to whack for having taken so long to get the job done. Trouble is, the scientist has filled the male hunter with Death Powder, leaving him a cracked out melting puddle of retarded goo who just needs a direction to start swinging his one good hand with... but there troubles have only begun, since the android (which self destructed) warned them that "Muu" was coming... and was only 20 kilometers away.

This flick is just too weird for words. Trying to explain it is like trying to explain Eraserhead or Holy Mountain or Gozu. You try for about 5 minutes, and then you just sit the person you're talking to down and show them, since they think you're tripping something hard. You are. These films are a drug. They take you to new places, make you question what reality is, and if you're lucky make you puke and get an erection for 8 hours. Plus you can't OD on surrealist cinema. (Well, hopefully not.) The film is in Japanese, but there's a LOT of distorted, backwards, and random English dialogue which is so akward that it's subtitled in Japanese so that the guys who were meant to see it can follow along. The Scar Yakuza are just plain cool, lead by Mr. Hacker who wears the same mask that Tiny in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES does, which is cool, 'cause House came out some 10+ years after this wacked out little indie production. It's shot on film (mostly) and edited on video, so the movement and framerate is constantly changing and fluxing, with a great scene in which the female hunter - while kicking mad scientists' ass - punts a picture-in-picture of him, and it cuts to him hitting the back wall. Yeah, the film literally has that little a grasp on reality and just tries to be as weird as it can be, and it does it well.

There's also a music video half way through with a guy who looks like Bill Nye the Science Guy's stunt double who rocks out singing about how kick-ass robots are. I'm not kidding. And the last 10 minutes involve puppets so freaky they'd make Cthulhu shit himself. Those puppets - the Muu we were warned of - are some truly nightmarish shit, in their underwater too freakily cute way. The puppets alone - particularly the EVIL DEAD inspired wall-of-face that blinks and licks and spews puss all over the place - are worth seeing the film for. And I'm glad I did, since if memory serves the only other version but the original Japanese tape kicking around is an unwatchable, washed-out VIDEO SEARCH MIAMI copy not worth the damned DVD-R it's burned on.

I'll show it to you if you ask. I will. Just... please, don't ask me to explain it. I can't.

Read next time when I wank all over Aussie tin boxes! Read to find out if I'm being literal.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ventura vs. the Underground Entertainment Industry

Before I begin, I should probably note that my DVD copy of FULL METAL JACKET does have a 5.1 mix.

Yeah. Warner did a remaster and put it in the same goddamn package. I didn't realize this, and figured I had the original disk. I don't. Thanks a bunch, Warner, for making sure I need the goddamn 15 year old laserdisc to ensure that I can see Kubrick's film the way he actually shot it. Seriously WB. What the hell?

Anyway. Ventura Distribution is fucking with my company. No, not the bootleg outfit I run out of my living room. Media Blasters is usually the one who - inadvertantly (maybe) - is quietly threatening my stranglehold on the yaoi and horror-porno market. I'm talking about that "real" job for a certain horror distributor who shall remain nameless for plenty of reasons. Mostly keeping my ass from getting chewed out. The industry is very secritive, and I'll tell you why someday. Or maybe today. Who knows.

So, Ventura Distribution is a MASSIVE company that sells DVD's to wholesalers in bulk. They get a cut of the profits, the studio gets more disk sold in places like Best Buy and Blockbuster, everybody wins. Unless the distributors decide to douche out, not pay what they owe, and most importantly decide to liquidate all assets when their pet store Musicland goes under. What can I say, gas is $2.95 a gallon, butter is $2.50 a pound, so I'm spend that combined to get enough goddamn butter to make my ghetto-ass maccaroni and cheese dinner. It's a shitty time all over, and the entertainment industry is feeling it pretty hard. But here's the big problem for us, the guys who don't make any goddamn money to begin with: Ventura is holding our DVD's ransom, and plans to keep them and sell them to pay off it's own debt. And the worst part is, the way things are now, they can legally get away with it.

The recent Harry Potter DVD sold over 1 million copies in the first DAY. Cowboy Bebop, probably one of the most successful anime TV series' in the US, sells a million copies over a 5 year period.

I'll also explain why anime is a shit hole from which no profit can be made: after a few break out hits, thanks mostly to increased exposure on Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, a very small number of anime became massive hits capable of pulling in millions. Cowboy Bebop, for instance, sold a million copies. It took 5 years... but a million sold is still a million sold, and for an anime studio to have hose sorts of numbers you feel like the hand of fucking God is guiding it. Around 2001, a couple anime studios started getting cocky and started bid wars for titles they figured would make a bundle. A show that was worth $5,000 an episode is worth about $30,000 these days, and that's for a middle of the road sort of title. Even without American money co-producing anime, high profile theatrical movies can cost up to a million dollars for distribution rights alone. Steamboy, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children... do these titles have something in common? They should. They were all released by Sony Entertainment, a company used to making the BIG bucks, and can actually afford these high profile films. Similarly, both Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Millenium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers are owned by the monolithic Dreamworks in the US, a studio which could eat ADV and VIZ whole if it wanted to. While I'm sure Geneon or FUNimation or a number of other anime specific studios would have loved to release these movies... the rights were probably just too goddamn expensive. Even when a title does WELL, getting it there can cost you an arm and a leg: remember APPLESEED? The 40,000 copies sold suprise hit of 2005? Geneon put that in theatres. You could easily argue that this helped propel the sales of the DVD (being on 2 screens and all...), but Geneon just barely broke EVEN on the cost of securing the theatres and getting the 35mm film print to play. Forget that the DVD has fucked up Japanese audio tracks and was never/will never be fixed... that Geneon was released to DVD as all is almost a miracle.

Plus, you have to dub anime. And every now and again an Otaku stands up and says "no you don't!" Yes. You do. I don't like dubs most of the time. There's maybe half a dozen I can actually watch without twitching and wanting to pierce my brain Kakihara style. But if you're praying for 20,000 units sold, you need as MUCH mainstream money as is humanly possible. The only studios to release subtitled-only anime these days are Dreamworks (who are doing it more to preserve the artistic integrity of KON Satoshi and OSHII Mamoru - and good for them), rinky dink hentai studios who can't even afford a dub, and yaoi/shounen-ai titles from Media Blasters. MB doesn't dub them because... well, it's yaoi. Either you're a WAI~ fangirl and you'll buy every yaoi title out there or you won't. That it's not dubbed has never deterred any yaoi fan. Myself included. They won't hope to sell more than maybe 5,000-10,000 copies of something like MY SEXUAL HARASSMENT, so why bother? Dubs, shockingly enough, cost just as much as the licenses do these days. Shows need to be dubbed fast and hard for TV broadcast, and with so much anime coming over the usual stable of US voice actors want to be compensated for their time. Even at non-union pay (ie: shit pay for long hours) these dubs are insanely expensive to produce, and without them there wouldn't be enough sales to actually make them investment of the show back at any point in time.

Anime ain't cheap boys. So don't buy bootlegs unless they're from me.

Horror studios don't dub. And horror movies are a little cheaper. But, the same the principles apply.

Oh, and the reason everybody's so secritive? You don't want to get screwed. If studio guy A says to studio guy B "hey, I found the rights to movie X." "Really? How much is it?" "Eh, $cheap." "Really? That's very interesting. Blah blah blah." "'Kay, cool. Bye!", then studio guy B is going to find the guy with said rights and offer $less cheap. Guy with rights calls up studio guy A and says "hey, we've had some good times and I will always cherish our memories together... but dude, I've been sucking dick for booze money. Sorry." And then studio guy B announced he has movie X 2 days later. Studio guy A then bangs studio guy B's girlfriend/mother/dog in revenge. It rarely gets prettier from here on in. Plus, if the rights holder is a crazy Japanese studio they'll get the offer or $more money, and may either take it and not tell studio guy A, or may turn to studio guy A and go "dude, wtf?! I thought what we had was special! I WANT A DIVORCE!" NEVER, EVER piss off the crazy Japanese licensor. They will make you pee razor blades for it later.

So, there's no money in gore, and even more non-money in anime. We do it because we want to get payed to watch movies all day. We don't get payed a lot. But we have our mac 'n' cheese, our DVD's and our internet porn. It's maybe not all we want. But it's all we need. But what happens when the guy you give all your DVD's to doesn't pay you for the meager thousands of disks you've sold? And what happens when they hold your product and won't give it back to you? You lose money. A SHIT load of money.

And my mac 'n' cheese is gettin' pretty gross without that butter.

To be fair my boss is the one who's really up a creek. The poor guy's lost about a million total in assets. I wasn't even sure the company I worked for was WORTH a million. But, yeah, it was. And he hasn't gotten that waiter job yet, so I guess we'll be all right. We already have a new distributor lined up to carry the new movies we've been sitting on for nearly a year now, though sadly plenty of the flicks coming up are in English, which means I go from being "the subtitle guy" to a sort of cheerleader who shoots the shit with the boss man. Not that I mind being a gore cheerleader. I look great in the uniform. That he makes me wear. Seriously. I should be getting payed more for this.

So, what's a poor bastard who lost a million dollars to a massive and now fledgling company to do? What America does best: SUE! He's going to need to find every single company that got 'effed in the a' by these motherfuckers and do his best to bitchslap them with a class action lawsuit. If we win, we'll get our DVD's back (the mother fuckers even snatched them back from store shelves in the hope that they can sell them off later... bastiches!), we'll get the money owed, AND we'll pay off that hefty legal fee we'll incur. How much is it to file a case of this magnitude? Only a hundred thousand dollars.

Sucks... but when you're out a million anyway, maybe you can go halfsies and hope for the best, right? The only upside I can see to this situation is EVERYBODY Ventura was working with got screwed, and I can only imagine that they're going to get together like a big goofy Superhero Team - The Animated Artsy Gorehound League! - and shove the court papers up Ventura's peehole. Come to think of it, I'm so drawing that sometime this week. Yeah. What time is it? 4:30? Why/how the hell am I still typing?

So, my mac 'n' cheese.... which I haven't been eating to begin with, but I like the symbolism, damnit... is getting pretty crunchy. So I should probably go to bed.

P.S. - See boss? They don't know who you are. Even if a curious bastard poked at my blog at random, they wouldn't have a clue who we are. Come to think of it, I don't know who I am anymore. Damnit, why aren't I asleep?

You don't know my name, you don't know my number, you don't know my face at all~

Monday, May 15, 2006

Full Metal Jacket: Cropped to Perfection? WTF

So Warner announced that Stanley Kubrick's psychological War Is Hell masterpiece FULL METAL JACKET is coming out on HD-DVD May 16th. Truth be told, this is the very first movie to be released in HD-DVD that has me even remotely interested in buying, and I imagine it'll be a good year before there are any BLU-RAY titles so badass that I NEED to own them at 1080p. Give it time. I'll be owned by the new formats soon enough.

Here are the specs on the new FMJ HD-DVD, stolen shamelessly from DVDTimes.co.uk:
  • 1080P High Definition 16x9 1.78:1
  • Dolby Digital-Plus: English 5.1, French 5.1 and Spanish 5.1
  • English, French and Spanish subtitles
Extras consist of a standard definition trailer... and, that's it. There's plenty of books about Kubrick if you want to learn more, and I'm honestly grateful they don't have somebody else going a commentary or, something. It's also the same price as the current DVD (MSRP, at least) and I'm sure we'd pay more if they'd whipped something useless up. But screw extras... what the fuck is up with those specs?!

Where to begin, where to begin... first off, I don't mind French and Spanish dubs included. I like fucking with language tracks and all that. But the purist in me - and in all of us - should demand the original audio track, at the very least for comparison's sake. It's entirely possible that this new track is 5.1 Mono, in the way that most current DVD's have 2.0 Mono (with the same audio slapping you from both speakers)... but there's no indication of this. Infact, early reviews say the 5.1 mix is "subtle, appropriate". And yet, he requested the film be shown in Mono in theatres, even when Dolby Stereo was the standard of the time.

There's also the aspect ratio. Fullmetal Jacket - along with a few of Kubrick's other later films (including my least favorite Kubrick, EYES WIDE SHUT) - were all shot 1.37:1, basically "fullscreen". FMJ was released in theatres cropped to 1.85:1 ("Normal widescreen" - not "Ultra Wide", that's scope crap) in the US, and is presented slightly less cropped on the HD-DVD. Kubrick knew this would happen. But he shot the film in 1.37:1 regardless... curious why?

What neither Warner nor reviewers will tell you is that Full Metal Jacket, released in 1987, was one of the very last Hollywood films to be mixed in mono, and one of the few to be shot in 1.37:1 before the home video boom. Kubrick demanded mono for a very simple reason: Stanley Kubrick wanted the movie to look and sound like a documentary. It wasn't a war epic: it was a war tragedy inspired by the TV broadcasts America was bombarded with it's original living room war. The look and tone of the film is cinema verite; Full Metal Jacket was meant to be a realistic experience. The most personal and shocking news reel imaginable. Full Metal Jacket was never meant for home theatre, it was meant to play with the viewer's perceptions and emotions... not show off their pretty TV's and speaker setups.

So, what will I be doing for Fullmetal Jacket when I finally bite the bullet and buy a bigazz widescren TV? Hook my DVD player up to it and watch the film window-boxed and in mono, the way that Kubrick and God intented. I'm all for upgrades, but when the upgrade is specifically going against a deceased director's intentions... ugh. Wonder how long it'll be until we have CITIZEN KANE THE ULTIMATE EDITION: not with 30% LESS picture so you can fill your widescreen TV! After 25 years of pan-scanning for square sets, it's only a matter of time. *Shudder*

There are a lot of movies I can't wait to own in High Definition. But if the studios releasing them are going to butcher the look and sound of the film to fit the expectations of the cinemaphile... well, I'll stick to my goddamned DVD's and the occasional Laserdisc, thanks.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lina Romay blew me away.

Ah, the lovely Lina Romay... don't let the the nice boobs, cute nose and willingness to get naked at the drop of a hat fool you. Lina Romay may kick ass, but her filmography is mostly filled with will roles directed by one of the world's most proilific crap-meisters, none other than Spain's aster of sleazy trash Jess "Jesus" Franco. With an output rivaled perhaps only by Italy's equally trashy - but way more lovable - Joe D'amato, Franco has earned a place in plenty of exploitation fan's hearts as a controversial film maker who's films dating back to the mid 1960's mixed artistic expressionism, violent sadistic horror, and graphic eroticisim to make exploitation cinema what it is today.

(I also have a hard-on for Me Me Lai and Laura Gemser, even if she desperately needs a sammich'. Yes, Italy had access some hot women back in the 70's, and directors knew what to do with it.)

That having been said, I don't think he was any good at it. I've seen exactly 2 Franco films, namely his wretched adaptation of The Marquis de Sade's Justine, and Female Vampire (aka Erotikill, Bare Breasted Countess, and a hundred other titles) both of which were facinating and frustrating wastes of my time. His adaptation of Justine turned the facinating philosiphy and heartless conduct of de Sade's text into a Benny Hill sketch, complete with dance numbers and pratfalls. Fans of goofy erotic 60's cinema might love it, but being a fan of the man who actually wrote Justine to some degree the film is a painful extravagance who's beautiful locations, naked women and crazy red and green gel's and needless double exposure cinematography can't change the fact that it's an absolutely dreadful adaptation of Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue. Claude Pierson's adaptation might not have been as pretty, nor did it have Klaus Kinski, but at least I get the feeling that he actually... y'know. Read it.

I should also bring up Andreas Bethmaan. For those who don't know him... you're lucky. You have far more of your money than you might otherwise. The mastermind behind the X-Rated Kult DVD label out of Germany, Bethmaan releases plenty of rare and hard to find films ranging from zombie movies to giallo thrillers to goofy Clive Barker adaptations to gory Japanese soft porn. He also sells the X-Rated DVD's in hardboxes, which are oversized clamshells that more or less resemble a cross between a hardcover cook book and an old Disney VHS clamshell box. His print runs are also notoriously limited, with some titles being limited to "several thousand", many limited to 666 units, and in a recent suprise his release of Franco's own Eugenie de Sade (re-titled DE SADE 2000... wtf?) which was hand-numbered to only 66 DVD's. X-Rated isn't the only studio he runs though; aside from secretly running several porno studios in both Germany and Austria - which he denies for legal reasons - including avoiding obscenity charges AND tax evasion, supposedly - he also "creates" one-off labels, including RELAX which he used to release just under 2,000 copies of Joe D'amato's lovely video nasty era gore clusterfuck ANTHROPOPHAGOUS: THE BEAST (a film I love dearly), and most recently, XCESS, who's logo even -looks- just like X-Rated, to once more release what is perhaps Jess Franco's most popular and beloved film, EROTIKILL: THE FEMALE VAMPIRE.

Bethmaan released Erotikill through X-Rated before. One of the cool aspects of the hardbox is that he often has anywhere from 2 to 5 limited covers, so you can pick which vintage cover - or modern photoshopped nightmare - you want to look at every time you reach for your DVD. This rocks when you order from a store which lets you choose, and can bite your nuts when you don't. (HKFlix sent me the not-Laura Gemser cover of CALIGULA 2... irony being if I'd waited another damn week I could have ordered the one I liked from Xploited. For cheaper.) Anyway, the X-Rated release of Erotikill is actually an interesting disk. I use the word "interesting" when describing Bethmaan releases, because despite his label being awesome in theory" a crazy law breaking mother fucker (who's an internet drama queen... but we'll hold that aside) who releases crazy horror, porn and psycho-weird rare movies in oversized cases you can kill a man with - in reality, the majority of X-Rated DVD's... kinda' suck.

First off, I don't ever hold the language tracks against him, TOKUGAWA 2 aside*. It's a label from Germany, though he also knows plenty of English speakers want to see smut and violence, so when he can he includes English dialogue or subtitles. He can't always... and more importantly, being cheap he basically just dub-titles the German dub, regardless of how good the original translation for that was, and then translates THAT back in to English. Badly. So sometimes you get subtitles when nobody's talking. Or translations that are pulling stuff out of the crevace of their ass. And sometimes - like in CALIGULA 2 - there's no English subtitles at all for whole scenes. Oh well. The other problem is his "Anything Goes" policy on masters. You say the film masters for Caligula 2 have been lost? No problem! I've had an uncut VHS for years now. You say the anamorphic master for JUSTINE DE SADE is too expensive? No problem: I can splice my own together from the various prints I have lying around. You say you hated the shitty NTSC-PAL tape master I used for DEATH CARRIES A CANE? Fuck, I'll release a 2 DVD set with a remastered (but cut) print later. Etc. It's this sense of both completion and... laziness, that leaves plenty of missed oppurtunities. When there literally aren't usable film masters for a movie left, I won't fault him for using an old tape. But when a remastered anamorphic print comes out 3 months later from a more responsible licensor... you see how full of crap the guy can be.

*Tokugawa 2: Inferno of Torture, an amazingly cool pinku film from Ishii Teruo, was released in German with Japanese dialogue only for the scenes previously cut from the German theatrical version. It was a sub-license, and god only knows what masters he had to work with, but Bethmaan HAD the Japanese dialogue. He just got lazy. He also said that he got Caligula 2 directly from the producers. Yeah, that explains why the first dream sequence is a bad NTSC-PAL conversion. He also said he found a scope version of A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN, which is most definately crap, since nothing gets cut off when the film is framed at 1.85:1... *Cough* A-nyway...

That having been said, nobody else is lobbying to release stuff like Maladoloscenza, Caligula 2, Emanuelle's Revenge, Ghost House or Phantom of Death. Shitty releases or no, I love -any- man who's mission statement clearly states "release every single Joe D'amato erotic film possible". No matter how wretched they may have been.

"But Kentai", my dear readers are probably thinking, "Female Vampire is available in the US! Why would you blow money on a Bethmaan DVD of a shitty erotic film you don't even like if it's available on the cheap in the US?"

Because, dear readers, the history of Les Avaleuses, as it was known in 1970, is a convoluted one I'll share with you now. Initially concieved as an erotic film about a vampiress who fed on the sexual energy of her victims, Franco figured he'd have better luck shooting 2 versions of the film: one with the typical fangs and blood nonsense we've been doing since Christopher Lee put on that cool bat Bowtie in the 50's, and one where she sucks her men (and women) dry... uh... the other way. The way I like better. Though she still kills them. Damn. Anyway, 2 years later German distributors liked the movie, but wanted to market it as a hardcore XXX porno. Kinda' hard to do that when there's no XXX footage. So Franco, being the money loving wacko so many people love grabbed Lina Romay and her then-husband and some random slut, and shot a minute or two's worth of hardcore vampire cock sucking and pussy licking. This may well be the first time that a cinematic blowjob ended in death, thus entering the modern realm of ponro horror... a genre which, sadly, NEVER delivers outside of soul burning guro manga and animation which make you want to simultaneously masturbate and vomit all over yourself.

Though the film has been released under well over half a dozen titles, "Erotikill" was the 'horror' cut, "Bare Breasted Countess" and "Female Vampire" were the 'soft' cuts, and the title "Les Avaleuses" can refer to either the soft OR hardcore cuts. The US video release Female Vampire - which came in one of those over sized porno boxes in the mid 80's - was the softcore cut with a very brief insert of Romay doing that thing. That you do. With your mouth. You know the one. When the US DVD from Image Entertainment was released, fans were (mostly) happy to see that they used Franco's "Director's Cut", ie the softcore version. There have been a handfull of DVD releases around the world, and all of them are basically either the Image DVD (without an English dub), or the "horror" version. This brings me to one of the things I like about Bethmaan: he's a sucker for including alternate cuts of films. In the case of Anthropophagous (released as "Man-Eater" in Germany), not 1, not 2, but 3 separate cuts are on the German release. In the case of Justine de Sade and The Nude Vampire (a lovely film by Jean Rollins), the edited German dubbed version - taken from a shoddy looking sourse and badly compressed, at that - is selectable as an option as a "Nostalgia". And so, we get to why I bought Bethmaan's release of Franco's EROTIKILL...

It includes both the softcore director's cut, and the hardcore edit as an extra.

Before I get too excited over the thought of seeing Lina Romay going aaaaaaall the way down, I should note a few things: this footage is crap. It doesn't match up to the film proper, with problems ranging from fake plastic fingernails during the cunnilingus footage to Romay's husband not looking a thing like the dude who's supposed to be feeding her. It's so painfully cheap it actually uses the head shot (heh) TWICE with supposedly different characters! Good god, Franco was a cheap, cheesy sum'bitch. It's also frustrating but notable that while the Director's Cut version is taken from a gorgeous film source... the uncut version is taken from a shoddy, probably VHS natured master. Yuck. Still, this is (literally) the best looking copy of the Erotikill hardcore footage that's ever surfaced, and there's nothing stopping a clever bastard like me from just splicing the hard footage back in place on the better looking edition. Neither of these version offer any English dubbing or subtitles, and the extras include alternate openings and endings, a deleted scene, and 3 trailers (English, French and German). All in all it beats the crap out of the Image DVD, assuming you speak French or German. The X-Rated release may or may not be anamorphic: Bethmaan's pretty vague about technical details (and even reading German often won't make heads or tails of what those extras are supposed to be... "Producer's Vintage Opening?" Wha...?), but anyone buying this DVD is doing so because they want to see Romay doin' the almost nasty, not to show off a new Sony Wega 1080p LCD. Promise.

So, with all this information at my disposal, it becomes clear... I will buy this DVD, create the perfect "hard" cut of EROTIKILL, and attempt to make a killing on eBay! God only knows how I'll be able to tell people what's in here without the eBay Nazi's kicking my ass... but at the end of the day, what matters is this: I design the keepcase. And I can add the following tagline;

"She's un-SUCKING believable!"

Even if I got banned permenantly, you can't tell me that alone wouldn't make it worth it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Evangelion. High Definition. HA!

So I've been looking at my DVD's, and wondering... is it really worth it?

At face value, the answer is hell yes: High Definition (be it on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, the VHS vs BETAMAX of the 21st century) is the best way we're going to see movies for quite a while, and at 6 - count it, 6, TIMES the resolution of DVD, even an HDTV that doesn't have all 2.08 million pixels should show a marked improvement over DVD's basic NTSC resolution. (PAL technically has 20% more resolution than NTSC, but both are bitch-slapped by the all mighty horsecock that is 1080p. So shove it Europe, Australia and parts of Asia and South America!) But there's a basic problem, aside from the cost of upgrading, lack of available technology, prototypical hardware, and the fact that HD will be just as compressed as DVD (leaving us with lovely compression artifacts)... no, the real problem is one near and dear to my heart.

That problem is animation.

Let me clarify: the problem is non-theatrical, video edited animation. In other words, anything produced between 1985 and 1998 and was intended for release on video or TV broadcast that wasn't specifically made in High Definition. Shows ranging from Berserk to Ren and Stimpy to The Simpsons and Trigun were all intended to be shown on television, which by it's very nature is 720 x 480. (Technically NTSC is 720 x 525 analogue... but let's not even go there.) To achieve this, the animation was animated on film, and then telecined on to professional video masters.

The way this works is the 24fps film is turned in to 30fps video by adding half-frames. Then they play the new 30 frames per second as half-frames. This is interlacing: the act of weaving those half-frames together. The reason they did this was we're still using broadcast standards designed back in the 30's, when sending half-frames over the air waves was easier. Video cameras work this way too. Anyway, virtually all animation circa 1985 to 2000 was edited from video masters, since it's MUCH cheaper and faster to slow a shot down, or zoom it in, or add credits or whatever using video equipment than it is having the show re-animated in Korea or Japan or wherever they keep teenage boys in cages that can draw a dog with a cape or a girl with big boobies and guns bigger than the shoulderpads in a Rob Liefield comic. This is why sometimes you'll see shots get soft, and literally lose half their resolution or why a pan shot will on close examination look jerky and strange: they're taking one of the half-frames and manipulating it with video editing equipment. It sucks, sure, but that's just the way video works. Without it most TV animation would be vey rushed and amateurish, so we just have to lovingly deal with it's inherant flaws.

This is also important for modern animation that mixes framerates. Shows like Gantz, Excel Saga, Cowboy Bebop and others which work in either live action footage or CGI often animate the 2D work at 24fps, and the CGI and special effects at 30fps. The only real difference this makes is wither or not you can release the show progressive (24 full frames that emulate 30fps so that TV's can read them), or 30fps which means the show is made of half frames made for a normal TV: PC's and HDTV's have to squash them back together at 60fps, making you lose resolution (deinterlacing). It's all very complex, and just something I'm mentioning for completionists sake. But it WILL get relevant. Promise.

Then, we have digital animation. The difference between digital and analog animation is pretty simple: in the stone age of cartoons, animators drew a sketch, traced it on a clear sheet of plastic, put the plastic sheet over a background and then photographer it. What they do now - the world over, apart from the occasional big budget movie - is take that sketch, scan it in to a computer, trace the outlines to become vectors, color it in, scan the background in separately, and then composite them together. The theory is the same, but the results look very different. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. As digital animation is practiced more, the results are not only closer to the cel look of older shows, but they also look better and cleaner than older shows could ever have. No more film grain, no more telecine bobble, digital effects can be worked right in... it's a more sterile, plastic finish, but if you're in to brightly colored and clean stuff in the first place that's probably a good thing. Me, I like gritty cheap OVA's of the 80's, so I'm just an old fart. Pay no attention to my ramblings on where animation has gone wrong. But here's the important thing: digital animation, being made for TV and all, is almost always made at NTSC resolution, 720 x 480.

Digital shows that were animated at 720 x 480 can NOT be retelecined for High Definition. They just are NTSC resolution, and doing a big fancy upscale would only be as good as using your HDTV or DVD player to blow it up. The point of HDTV isn't that it's bigger, it's that it's more detailed. There's no more detail in NTSC... it's just not there to begin with.

But wait, you say, wasn't animation up until 2000 shot on film? Couldn't you re-scan the film masters and make any show before the digital age HD?

Kinda'. See, all that video editing was done AFTER the film process was finished. They'd not only have to retelecine the film masters, they'd have to re-edit them totally. Basically you wouldn't have the original episode: you'd have a newly edited copy of the original episode. It also isn't cheap. When Gainax created their High Definition masters for the insanely popular Neon Genesis Evangelion TV show, they admitted that the remastering process for the TV show cost more than it did to actually make it 8 years prior. I know inflation is a factor... but this brings me to what makes me laugh about the whole process.

Evangelion, though an intelligent and revolutionary show, was one of the more under-funded and problematic looking shows of the mid 1990's. The telecine bobble (how the camera jerks when it changes shots) is infamous, the look of the film is grainy and cheap, and while the scenes involving the expected Eva vs. Angel footage is gorgeously animated (arguably the best of the decade)... the moment Eva's aren't in the picture, the show's movement drops to zero. Whole dialogue scenes are made from 2 or 3 still shots, and the final 2 epiosdes of the TV series were considered so lackluster by fans that Anno Hideaki remade them as the theatrical film The End of Evangelion, which is kinda' the anime equivalent to The Holy Mountain. End Of Eva definately deserves to be released in HD, and if it gets released in the US that way I'll buy it even if I don't have a damned player yet. But the TV series will be as well.

Now, the idea with High Definition is to have a more detailed and crisp image. I'm also a firm believer that EVERY film - no matter how worthless it may appear to 99% of the world at large - deserves to look as good and get as many suppliments on a release as is possible. Every film was made by somebody, and damn it, somebody somewhere must love it, and that 3 DVD ultimate boxed special edition for unwatchable crap like Dogville and Brown Sugar is just for them. At the same time Evangelion presents us with an interesting chin scratcher; if the remastering was more expensive than the show, is it really worth the upgrade to watch low rent mecha in this shiny digital age? I'll never argue that Evangelion isn't an itelligent, unique, controversial piece of psychologically focused work worthy at least most of the praise it's been given over the past decade. But I will argue to my dying day that, as a piece of animation (not a piece of animated storytelling) it's pure crap. It spent it's limited budget on detailed backdrops, good actors and fine music, only dipping in to the animation budget when Unit-01 was ripping the shit out of something. Sequences like the "Born Again" gag or watching Unit-01 an 02's synchronized attack on the twin Angel are beautiful in every sense of the word... but as a whole, the TV animation is average, at best. It also must be said that Evangelion is, by all rights, the nastiest, baggiest, most used anal ho in the anime world. C'mon, there's Evangelion soap dishes , Misato sanctioned canned coffee, and NERV hand towels... I've never seen Rei sex toys, but there -are- official hentai model kits, and there are rumors abound that the 15 minute HUMAN INSTRUMENTALITY PROJECT hentai spoof was actually animated by Gainax staff members. What I'm trying to say is, if there was a home pregnancy test or a bottle opener or a pet coffin with some sort of Evangelion logo or character on it, people would buy it. And this is exactly the reason why Gainax is prepping an HD release.

The only other 1985-2000 animated TV series to get a new HD remaster was Card Captor Sakura, a lovable girls' show which can be watched by children for the cuteness, and by adults for how many creepy homo-incestual overtones the show hides every 5 minutes or so. CLAMP is a pack of dirty, dirty ladies. I'm not aware of ANY American cartoons getting the 1080 treatment, nor do I expect it to happen. Certainly some newer anime - RahXephon, Noir, Gankutsuo and the like - were broadcasted in HD already, so they'll get a legitimate HD release without a bajillion dollar remaster. Theatrical animated films, too, since the movies are already on a film master and don't require much more than a new HD telecine. But TV and OVA animation from this period is just... well, screwed. The DVD is as good as it'll get, short of a market that loudly demands every single DVD they own be upgraded, which I don't see happening for a VERY long time.

But herein lies the real question: does it matter? TV and video animation is made to look good on a TV, and typically has both a lower budget and far less detail than any theatrical film, which is really what HD was designed for anyway. Particularly with newer digital animation, grain and texture and brush strokes - something that cel animation shot on film had plenty of - are intentionally avoided to produce a bright, clean master. I love Family Guy and South Park and Beavis & Butthead, but would having 6 times more resolution of their simplistic animation make the experience any better? I could be wrong, but I really doubt it. It's arguably no big loss that we'll never see more detail and a stronger film-like nuance on these cartoons.

But what about Berserk, Urotsukidoji, Apocalypse of Devilman and so many other fantastic cel based animation who's grit, grain and brush strokes only serve to make them look better and more like the hand created art they truly are? Do the original studios still have the 16mm film masters anymore, or did they chuck them like Hong Kong studios did to all the Cat III movies back in the 90's? Are they in any condition to be remastered in HD or have they been quietly rotting away beyond repair? If the answers to both of these questions are yes, would the studios who own the rights take the time and expense to re-edit the new HD masters? And if the studios actually do all this work, will they sell enough of these upgraded HD versions to have made the expense and effort worth it?

I'm leaning towards a "no". Weirder things have happened though. For chrissakes Synapse Films remastered The Arizona Nailgun Massacre in 1080p. Why? Because of the ideal I mentioned above. That having been said, I happen to know the director of this lovable piece off crap released his own VERY limited, uncut, hand signed SE, and he's got hundreds of copies left that haven't sold. So the likelyhood of Arizona Nailgun Massacre flying off the shelves by the dozen in HD is... less than likely.

So, pre-2000 animation in HD? I'm not holding my breath. Hang on to any and all anime DVD's and if you're going to bother with HD, get something worth it. Fullmetal Jacket, Devil's Rejects, Kill Bill, gawd even goofy crap like Doom could probably benefit from more detail showing how badly intergrated it's Xbox graphics are. But unless the animation in question was on the big screen, just ignore it. Advent Children, Akira, Rock and Rule, this is the stuff you want 6 times the detail for.

Eva? I'll buy it again. You shouldn't. I'm a pretentious otaku. Buying Eva is just what I do.

Will I ever finish that rant against "creative packaging"? Eh. Like you'd lose sleep if I didn't.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My wife liked an Uchiyama Aki episode!

That's no small feat considering she ran away from the parrot sex episode.

A little bit of background: I love hentai. I have since I was about 14, grabbed an English dubbed copy of Legend of the Overfiend, walked up to the Saturday Matine counter and bought it without issue. Good job keeping minors away from porno there fellas! Urotsukidoji was a life changing event. Sure, it was anime porn, but it was much more than that. To this day it remains one of the best anime ever produced, and literally no other title I've ever seen has come close to changing my perception on it. Theatrical quality animation that did everything that every action series after it would only ape, a complex allegorical story about culture clash and sexual desire that would make any literature teacher weep tears from his pants, H.R. Giger inspired Freudian nightmares who's sexual molestation and mutilation are always an integral part of the storytelling, and even a never ending host of sequels which would get progressively worse until we got to an OVA so horrible that it's producers have neither licensed it outside of Japan, or even acknowledged it's existance since. I know better, but what I'm trying to say here is that despite 99.8% of the population thinking hentai is just retarded pr0n, there's a hand full of it that's simply masterpiece theatre with cocks in the frame. NOT all of it. There's plenty of hentai which deserves it's unsavory reputation for being badly drawn misogynist wank fodder with little to no socially redeeming value (and sometimes even titles I like - Bible Black, for instance - can be guilty of just this). But to understand where hentai as an art form is now, we must first understand where it came from, and as such I've dedicated at least a small part of my life to seeing and understanding the most revolutionary titles there are in the genre.

1984. Nikkatsu studios, made famous for their Pinku Eiga (Pink Movies - epic and high budgeted soft porn) in the 1970's, began to invade the growing home video market, with both low budget shot on video porno (like Za Goumon), and Original Video Animation which would push the boundaries of not only animation as an art form, but what the brave new world of home video would legally allow. While a lot of people think of the first OVA's as the "lost" episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam and Megazone 23, the very first OVA's to the best of anyone's knowledge that I've spoken to/read the works of was actually the LOLITA WONDER KIDS' ANIME and the UCHIYAMA AKI LOLITA ANIME, both released in 1984 a mere 2 months apart for their respective premier episodes. While the Wonder Kids' show was produced by a brand new studio, Nikkatsu was perhaps taking a big risk in doing this Uchiyama Aki series, and thank God they did. I own an artbook of the Wonder Kids' series, and while it's high quality and has nice artwork and all that... it's basically normal porn. Romance, rape, bondage, mystery. It's good - or at least the cel's are, and you can be moderately amused in between wanking, a fundamental trick more and more porn (animated and otherwise) is slowly but surely abandoning. But nothing, absolutely nothing you've ever seen before can prepare you for the total mind fuck that's to come in the Uchiyama Aki anime series.

Wait, what's this I see as I'm writing this up?! Oh, this is f*cking hilarious:
http://animenation.net/news/askjohn.php?id=1314

Damnit John! Seriously, I want to talk about something nobody knows shit about and he crops up doing what he does best: giving more facts than I know without having actually seen the stupid thing. Ah well. Read his stuff if you're bored. While I don't generally agree with his opinions and critique, his insight in to the facts behidn anime production and the like are pretty facinating.

So, what's so weird about the Uchiyama Aki series? Episode 1, Obyouki Aki-chan (Aki-chan Feels Sick) is literally the demented fantasy of some creep jerking off in the park while he watches a little girl play on the jungle gym. How demended? She gets stripped nude by a 2 headed Colonel Sanders who force feeds her pie while a snake eats her vaginal secretions. Then she walks up a giant piano key staircase and gets frenched by R2-D2 with a microphone penis who shows het that she'll be a slut when she grows up. Then, to get home in time for dinner, she has to give her future self - a blonde shemale, of course - a blowjob, who turns in to a giant black dude who butt rapes her while the universe flows through his being. Somewhere along the line she rides a synapse roller coaster which shoots through Godzilla bad guys. And this is after she gets attacked by space sperm. I think. This sums up exactly why hentai animation existed in it's earliest form: it was less an excuse to feature 8 year old starlets (though that was a part of it, sure) and more just the perfect way to cram 50 fetishes in to 20 minutes without requiring a massive budget. Some of the stuff in this show is sexy. Some of it - the roller coaster especially - is just damned funny. The whole point of these early OVA's were to entertain, in every concievable manner, and the Uchiyama Aki series excelled at that and then some.

The first episode just makes my wife roll her eyes and wonder what the hell I'm on for loving it. The third episode OMORASHI GOKKO (Peeing Together) - as promised - makes her run like hell. What's it about? Uh... bear with me here. A girl who's like, 4, is left with her uncle while her parents are on business. She looks sorta' like Link from the original Zelda video game too. Yep'. So uncle is a mad scientist who's... made a ray that captures colors? I honestly don't know. What I do know is he has this giant scary-ass parrot, who Aki despises. (All the girls are named Uchiyama Aki. Which makes as much sense as anything in these episodes.) Uncle leaves to go shopping, she screws with the parrot who gets out... strips her, and then beak rapes her. She ends up freaking out and killing the parrot with the color beam. Uncle goes crazy, fills the kid up with bird seed 'till she's fat, gives her an enema and rapes her, and then feels awful about it. She shows him it's OK, and with the help of the rubber hoses of the color machine thing has sex with her uncle. In space. And turns him in to a baby. And makes him pee flavored tuna. And then blows up her parents on the plane with her evil mind powers. I swear to God this isn't some freaky acid flashback: I have the tape, and my wife can testify that at least the parrot part happened. She ditched me at that point, but... she knows. Yes, she knows.

I don't know what kind of drugs that the original mangaka Uchiyama Aki was injecting in to her eyeballs, but it must have been some pretty good shit, because after hawt parrot secks I don't think I can go back to anything else. So after having burned out my brain cel's on this messed up madness, the last episode (to me anyway - the actual order was Aki-Chan Feels Sick, then Milk Drinking Doll, and finally Peeing Together), MIRUKU NOMI NINGYOU (Milk Drinking Doll) just has to be the pinnacle of funked, doesn't it? Huh?

Nope. But to be fair, after 2 headed Colonel Sanders, what else can you possibly do to surprise your audience?

I fully plan on bootlegging the crap out of these shows when my workload is less horrendous, and I can tell you with the opening and closing kanji stories I'm not looking forward to translating those. Maybe my buddy's Korean translator can help me out. But anyway, the story takes place in 1922, and the star Aki's father s away in the navy. She lives with her mother, goes to school, reads manga in her spare time, and despite missing her daddy seems like a happy enough kid. She also has a crush on a little boy who, being a little boy, is a bit of a twerp, and finds herself drawn to a foreign girl named Sonya, though she can't for the life of her figure out why. Things are going well enough... until as she's getting dressed, she discovers that she's growing fuzz on her cha-cha. This leads to one of many hilarious - and stunning - scenes of self exploration that, if not filled to the brim with suprisingly great 1980's animation, would just come off as hilarious. Don't get me wrong, I laughed on the long, slow pan down along Aki's body, but the talent and creativity it took to make this miniscule camera literally crawl between her breasts all the way down to her crotch is nothing short of genius. Like Disney or even John K. level stuff. But with vaginas. This, being so old, is also one of the VERY few hentai productions which was allowed to not only show vaginas uncensored, but also pubic hair. (There is no penis this episode - sorry ladies, but they're dealt with different each time in the rest of the series.)

So after picturing her mom naked as she serves dinner, for no apparent reason other than natural curiosity I assume, Aki goes off to the balet. While there she follows Sonya who goes off to service an older gentleman, at which point she's attacked by panties. Seriously, a woman we never really get to see pounces her with her skirt, and rubs her rather lovely pantied crotch - and butt - all over the poor kid's head. While if I were in her situaion I'd probably take it and like it, the girl gets predictably freaked and runs, in to a room filled with BJD's. For those who don't know, BJD is a Ball Jointed Doll; basically a scale human you can build, paint, and make clothing for. But BJD's kick Barbie's injected molded Malibu Ass (MT), being hand cast in cold reisen with removable glass eyes, an elastic tension construction, and more often than not you can swap heads, hands, wigs, whatever you want and basically have a little silent human to follow you around. Assuming you're willing to bring your doll in public, with prices ranging from $100 for an 8" toddler doll to anywhere from $500 to $2,000 for a 24" model. I know because my wife builds clothing for them, makes devil horns (which rock) for them, and more importantly in the same way that DVD studios own my ass, the doll companies have every single dollar she makes ear marked for things ranging from shoes and eyes to doll beds and Mister Super Clear.

I bring this up because, naturally, things get kinky. Aki can't move, and Sonya strips her and poses her, like a doll, while the animated plastic children around her get up and coo about what dirty poses she's making. The best part of this experience - aside from my wife not wanting to vomit, I mean - is the sound effect. When ever Sonya is moving her arms and legs, there's a bizarre scraping, clicking sound. Which is the exact sound that coated reisen makes on a BJD. The first mass producers of dolls was Volks, which started in 1998, so where these guys got perfect BJD sound effects 14 years prior I'll perhaps mercifully never know.

Anyway, this being an Aki video Sonya gets bored of posing her and goes to town, and then leaves her to get molested by Aki's dad. About this time Aki snaps back to reality, the whole disturbing and erotic story having been but an idle fantasy. Aw. Damnit.

So the next day she's walking around with The Boy, and they remember their times together. Most of which involves them being toddlers running naked on the beach. This leads to Aki grabbing his wanker - to which the little scamp cries like a bitch - and him marking a sand castle he built. She tries too. It doesn't work, so she gets pissed and trashes the sand castle anyway. Eww, and aww. This scene is probably the cutest goddamn thing on the planet, and even when not viewed in the context of a hentai is just farking lovable. (Or maybe I'm jaded.) So anyway, he remembers the dick grab, and likes her even though she hurt him. So they kiss. Eww/Aww. He then says that for loving him, he'll show her where her father's gone off to, which leads to another aw scene as her shoe breaks, and he carries her up the mountains far away from their village, explaining that their fathers were commrades, and the final shot is Aki overlooking the naval base over the mountain, her eyes wide with wonder.

Then we get another kanji bitchslap I don't want to translate. End of episode.

Hmmm. Compared to plenty of downright boring hentai titles out there, this has it's moments, between the slow-mo pussy crawl shot and the bizarre as hell BJD dream sequence. But more than anything the pacing, costumes, set design and everything else involved plays closer to a Victorian romance with more hardcore material slipped in to spice it all up. There are even facinating shots of Aki and her beau walking through black-and-white backgrounds (while they themselves are in full color), a trick used to a much lesser extent nearly 20 years later in the amazing hentai series Yuuwaku (Temptation). Perhaps made specifically to try and market to an audience looking for romantic and character driven stories that were put off from the non-stop fetish madness of the first episode, Uchiyama Aki's Milk Drinking Doll is a perfectly lovable and high quality piece of genre creating filth. It's just not up to the unexplainable insanity of the other 2 episodes, and for it, isn't nearly as infamous. Rightly so, perhaps, but still worth watching in it's proper context.

Which is sandwiched between 2 Headed Colonel Sanders and Parrot Beak Rape. Man I love doing this.

What will I talk about next time? ...who cares! Just wait and see!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Correcting what isn't broken

Sometimes being a bootlegger blows.

There's a lot that goes in to doing it: finding something you actually want to release, finding masters for it, working on a subtitle track and any dubs if you've got them... but the worst part is when you're a dedicated bootlegger.

Let me explain this for a minute. There are a lot of guys out there that can rip a DVD. Sometimes that means just making a 1:1 copy of an available DVD. I don't do this. I don't fault those who do though. There's a lot of DVD's - and I mean a LOT - released in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and elsewhere that though they have English versions available, simply aren't playable on American DVD players - who, at least from my little perspective are my target audience. So, when somebody releases a direct copy of a Japanese DVD and they buy it for $15 on eBay I don't fault the guy who spent $70 on the original and is making a DVD-R sans the region code and copy protection.

There are also jackoffs who buy the US version for $20, make 1:1 copies of the official release, and sell them on cheap-ass DVD-R's for $5. These guys suck ass. They give well meaning psycho loons like myself a bad name. They don't work. They don't create DVD's. They steal them. I create DVD's. I just steal the films on the DVD. That's different. Sort of.

But then there's guys like me. I'm working on a yaoi title for my bootleg label right now. A very rarely seen yaoi title from 1987. It's a damn fine one too. But there's a problem. The master I have to work from is a DVD-R of the original VHS tape. From 1987. I don't have access to the original tape anymore, and while there is a laserdisc floating around which would likely give me beautiful results... I've never seen it for sale. It seems to be about as rare as a snippet of Jesus Christ's foreskin. Regardless, the VHS-to-DVD transfer turned out fairly good, and looks worlds better than the aincent VHS fansub that the Techno Girls did in the late 90's. But there are two problems I'm dealing with.

1) I couldn't use a Time Base Corrector. Usually they take the wobbly un-synched image and re-synch it. What this means is that wobbly lines that should have been straight become straight, geometry gets fixed... the balance is restored. All that crap. Thing is, if your timecode is fucked beyond recognition, it'll do as much harm as good. What I ended up with was 90% of the tape looking great, and 10% of it jittering like the tape was on drugs. So, too late now, but often times a stand alone TBC (like I was using) adds ringing and washes out colors anyway. Ah, ringing is when you get like an outline around a solid color. Like a white outline to the side of a black outline. The original tape had some pretty bad ringing, and I'll be damned if I was going to add ANOTHER layer of that crap.

2) The DVD-R wasn't color corrected. Color Correction is, to be perfectly honest, the only "simple" step in remastering video. A lot of people like to use Digital Video Noise Reduction (DVNR) which acts as a sort of a temporal smoother. In other words, it takes uneven patches of color - like splotches or print damage or film grain - and makes them all one solid color. Sounds like a good idea... 'till you realize that it might smooth out actual detail that's supposed to be there. Similar filtering is more or less B.S. - you trade too much softness for too much edge enhancement, too many dark scenes for too many gray scenes. Restoring films really has to be done at the film level, and the telecine (when you change film frames to video masters) itself is often the most important step. So fixing color levels is about all that can be done once the telecine is finished.

But here's the fun part: fresh telecines are done to Digibeta tapes, or a similar lossless tape that looks as good as a video master literally can. I have a DVD master. DVD's are compressed to anywhere from 2 to 10 megabits per second. The more compressed the image, or the less well done the compression, the more of those lovely little blockey artifacts crop up. So I'm artifacting the artifacts. It's sexy, in a way. The taboo-ness and all. But mostly it's fugly. Another secret of compression that nobody tells you is that dark scenes artifact more. I dunno' why people said "you can use lower bitrates in dark scenes". Maybe because most people have their TV's set so dark that black levels become a soup of inky black. But they artifact like a mother humper.

So what happens when I take the too-dark-and-already-compressed yaoi DVD master and re-encode it with proper bright, happy colors? I get a blockier but brighter image. It's not perfect... but crap, it's the best I can do short of someone magically finding me the original LD, which I'd capture uncompressed, color correct and THEN compress. But that's a damned pipe dream. So the yaoi fans will just have to deal.

Besides. I defy anyone out there to show me a better print.

Tune in next time when I talk about the second episode of the Lolita Anime series from Nikkatsu!

Yes, you read that right.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

In Soviet Russia, Robot Hunts You!

After waxing poetic about the various versions of Casshern: The Robot Hunter last time, it might do some good to actually talk about the movie, wouldn't it?

Released in 2004, Casshern was one of three 1970's manga titles to get a brand new live action adaptation. Unlike the fun kitsch that was Cutie Honey or the overwhelming suck fest that was Devilman, Casshern sits somewhere apart from the other two in a sort of limbo that can be described best by not being a great film, but being excellent entertainment.

My knowledge of the originl Casshern anime from the early 70's extends to... the title and the fact that it exists. And apparently he had a robot dog and a bird. Or, something. What, I'm an otaku so I've seen every obscure anime in the world? There was also a late 1980's OVA with character designs by Umetsu Yasuomi, of which I've seen only the first episode. It's not bad, but walks a fine line between being a goofy kiddie series and a serious post apocalyptic drama about the frailty of human life. It also has boobies, but... no blood. So apart from updating the concept fans of the original Casshern, I'm not quite sure what the OVA's were driving at. The 80's were a magical time for cinema, particularly in Japan. But that has little to do with the film at hand, and there will be plenty of time to wank to the awesome cracked out animation made in the 80's later.

The plot of Casshern is something like this: In the far off future, Eurasia and the Western Nations are fighting in the place known as Zone 7, an aincent and religiously guarded land filled with desert terrorirst. While the world at large lives in sprawling monotone cities that look like a fantastic mix of Russian architecture and Chinese post modern design. A scientist of this brave new world, Prof. Azuma, has perfected a way to clone usable human parts from data found in the war zone, and struggles to perfect the bio-weapon in time to save his ailing wife Midori. While his son Tetsuya goes off to war, and the youth's girlfriend Luna waits for his safe return, things go horribly wrong and the cloning vat produces a race of super humans which, after being hunted down by The Mans' army, swear vengance against the human race. When Tetsuya returns in a coffin, and Midori taken as a hostage by the Neo-Sapien mutants, Azuma injects his son with the Neo-Cels, and outfits him with the cybernetics needed to survive the transformation...

First off, let's get a few things out of the way. Casshern is not a good movie, at least not in the traditional sense. Character development is basically limited to a person either being a sant or a demon (in stylish clothes either way), dramatic scenes are handled so akwardly that there are times where I honestly didn't have a clue what was supposed to be going on - such as the scene where Tetsuya and Luna have a conversation, both in the present and in the past... with the EXACT same dialogue... and while I can suspend disbelief for a lot of things, this film asks more than I can even fathom with the scene of Tetsuya's soul just kinda' hanging around his corpse. Why did they pull this stunt? So that he and the villain can recognize each other a half hour later. This isn't just contrived. This is retarded. The other major problem with the film is it's descision to try reeeeally hard and have a serious message about war. War is Hell. We know. We have a thousand movies from Saving Private Ryan to Man Behind the Sun to tell us this. That Casshern uses it's final 15 minutes (in it's overlong 142 minute runtime) to pound the moral in to our head with a blinted emo spear that doesn't kill, but really, really hurts.

It probably sounds like I'm trashing on the film at this point. I'm not really. I just need to get the bad out of the way before I discuss the good. Stylistically the film is literally the shounen anime equivalent to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: a basically pure CGI film which uses actors faces more as a hook to pull audiences in rather than because the film is focused on them. (Or so was the case in Sky Captain: here the film tries in vain to make the character drama work, but mercifully only for moments at a time.) The star here is really the non-stop photo realistic CGI, which even during quiet scenes is stunning and immersive. The real reason to see the film, however, are the - sadly all to limited - action sequences. At about the 60 minute mark Tetsuya, donning his Casshern armor, is up against the leader of the Neo-Sapiens who marches with an army of Evil Commie Robots. Did I mention that the visual aesthetic makes the Neo-Sapiens out to be commies and the Eurasian Empire much like the Russian Imperial State? Making Tetsuya out to be some sort of bastard cyber Anastasia? But yeah, the scene in which Tetsuya trashes at least 50 massive clumky WWII modeled mobile tin soldiers is literally the stuff that wet manly dreams are made of. Catching tank shells, tearing off robot heads, running up walls, all in amazingly fluid CGI that while show enough to show all the cool robot-gore details to the human eye, isn't the typically slow bullet time nonsense that post-Matrix cinema has grown to love. The three action sequences in the film... yes, only 3 through 142 minutes, that actually involve Casshern, with a few (minor in comparison) sequences not featuring the title character... are worth seeing, even if you can't stand a second of the rest of it.

And what of the rest of the film? As I've said, the film is immersive as hell, and apart from a few super 8 flashback sequences there aren't any actual sets or locations. The entire film is a greenscreen industrial nightmare of epic proportions, and being directed by Kazuaki Kiriya - husband of Hikaru Utada, a fashion photographer and music video director, the film is never without a healthy injection of crack infused style. You could easily argue that the grubby Neo-Sapiens shrug off their rags for "Uniforms" pulled right out of the latest lame J-Rock video, or that Casshern's suprisingly retro outfit (a white uniform with a silver mask, all that's missing is the helmet which is teasingly shown through the film) could only exist in the current state of Japanese pop culture. But that's just the thing. This movie is, first and foremost, the product of modern Japan: obscenely expensive, needlessly flashy, full of inevitably homoerotic bishounen and adorable so-not-legal ladies, giant robots, sentai outfits and long dialogues about the frailty and preciousness of life. Despite being saturated in foreign and exotic aesthetic - taking revolutionary Russia of all things - the movie is the sort of film that, though clearly vying for international scratch, could only actually be made by Japan.

With the only other films in recent memory trying their best to create a living breathing world being the aforementioned Sky Captain, and the immensely creative but under-funded British fantasy Mirror Mask, Casshern takes the unmistakable feeling of the almost now-dead manly shounen TV shows of years gone by, in which manly men would speak of doing manly things whilst manly tears flowed down their face and they beat the manly hell out of their manly opponents. It's so manly that it gives guys with black handle moustaches leather hats and suspenders wood. Japanese boys still wearing micro shorts are exposed to such manly shows in middle school so that their pants don't destroy their genitalia totally. Or such is my unfounded theory. Dragonball Z, Fist of the North Star, Saint Seiya, sCRYed, Naturo, and yes, Casshern, it's all the same thing. In a world where women are either an excuse to defend honor to seek revenge, there's absolutely nothing remotely heterosexual to be found, but that's OK. If straight men kicked each others' asses it wouldn't be half naked sweaty brawling with falling sakura petals and admissions of love with final breaths, and where would the fun be in that?

I've heard plenty of complaints. That the film is style over substance. Duh. That the film has no character development and is ludicrous. See previous answer. That the film has about 3 good scenes admist 2 hours and change of nothing. Anyone who's watched a lot of shounen anime with horrid scheduling and no budget is used to slogging through 15 minutes for 1's worth of ass kicking. It's a genre convention, for better or worse, and viewing Casshern in that light makes it perfectly acceptable as an action vehicle. And if the fashion photo look of the movie is a bit too gay for you... my advice is to give up Japanese cinema entirely.

There are some things that merrit further mention though. The soundtrack ranges from pieces of classical music to generic numetal to techno which may or may not be good. I don't know what does and doesn't define "good" techno, but it's neither Rammstein nor Prodigy so I don't really care. The score isn't brilliant, but I'm also not watching bloody gun battles set to English love songs as did the 2004 CGI Appleseed flick. *Shudder* What the hell were they thinking... so as unassuming as the soundtrack may be, it's not bad. It could have been better if it focused on any one of these genres, but as it stands it works. The acting is also suprisingly good. Sort of. As I've said before, the characters here are basically set pieces. Screw that. They're glorified character designs for the CGI action scenes, no more. Which is a shame. They actually do a fairly decent job with their cut-out characters when they're given a half a chance, particularly Jun Kaname as the villainous Barashin, who plays his deep voiced pretty boy bad guy routine to the hilt, and some mention should definately go to Yusuke Iseya, Tetsuya/Casshern, who actually manages to do the whole limping-with-one-eye-closed-gripping-your-wounds thing that's been used since at least Dragonball Z in 1989. It's not Shakespeare. It's not Jidai Geki. It's not even Pinky Violence. But it's got enough snap and likability that we almost give a damn about these cheesy characters and their cheesy hopes and dreams, which is all the investment we really needed.

And then... there's the ending. Up until the final battle between good and evil the film was inevitably builting towards, the movie didn't take itself seriously enough to really get weepy and sappy. Apart from the badly edited scene in which Tetsuya tries in vain to explain to Luna that war makes you less than human, which when intercut with the same dialogue once Tetsuya becomes Casshern becomes... downright confusing rather than stunning and dramatic. But this misstep is pretty minor. The overwhelmingly contrived ending which pulls twist and emo love out of it's robot ass for the last 15 minutes feels tacked on at best, and horrendously manipulative at worst, using footage of actual war victims to make it's point. When the films victims were mostly CGI robots suddenly assaulting the viewer with authentic (or at least authentic looking) footage of dead kids is just... cheap. I'm all for manipulating audiences in bad taste, but there's a time and a place. This is so not it. And the only thing about the film that genuinely makes me angry is the aforementioned scene of Tetsuya's soul just chillin' before he's brought back. If the film went on to perhaps question what a soul was, to use this image as a stepping stone for some philosiphy or even as a factor in the plot that would be fine. But as it stands it's just another moment to confuse the living hell out of the viewer with no other excuse other than to make a moment in the film later more convienant. Ugh. It should be noted that director Kiriya also co-wrote the screenplay. I have a feeling that, much like Paul Anderson, he'd be better off creating the visual aspect of cinema rather than the storytelling end.

But at the end of the day, this is setpiece after glorious setpiece with long scenes of inane dialogue in between that you can pretty much just skip if you so choose. And after having the acrid taste of Devilman scratching the back of my throat this was like a delicious kool-aid splattering against my tongue. It doesn't have any vitamins or minerals, and you know you're just going to have to pee in half an hour, but that fruity red flavor is worth it and you know it.

P.S. - Apparently Hiroyuki Nasu, director of the wretched soul rape that was Devilman (2004), died of liver cancer last year. While it's not nice to kick a director when he's down... and dead... I stand by my review, apart from saying I hope he improves in the future. So, rest his soul and all that.

Man. This is almost as akward as everyone loving Allyah in Queen of the Damned despite the fact that she was more a Count Chocula type than a Lady Dracula. And the fact that with or without her the film sucked mouldy condom lube.