Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Ascension of Beauty: Karim Hussain Double Feature

Cinema can be endearing, moving, beautiful, provocative, and profound. It can also be lewd, disturbing, shocking, amoral and putrid. It's a rare feat when all of these are combined into a single stretch of celluloid, wielded with the ferocity of a burning dagger and plunged straight between the eyes of its' virgin audience, forever corrupting and destroying the viewer's expectations about what a mere movie is capable of.

While there are several powerful and controversial films out there, it really doesn't matter much. The only film you need to be hurt by, deeply and forever, is the one that promised to "open your mind - and then fuck it". That film was SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY, the first film to be simultaneously finished in, and then banned in, Canada. Literally nothing more than the rage of the film maker given surreal life, it was at once a grandiose exploitation film and a frenetic arthouse experiment, wed perfectly so to leave the viewer totally unprepared for what would happen next, or wither they should be in awe or vomiting over what was lurking behind the next scene. One by one, every taboo is broken: the human form violated in ways impossible, birth itself is desecrated, the beauty of nature is transmogrified into something hideous, literal pornography used as the height of moral corpulence, and even the imagery of Western religion is quite literally reduced to cannibalism, rape, and murder.

The start of my accidental obsession.

Subconscious Cruelty, as the title implies, is an attack on everything, mental and metaphysical, real and imagined, logical and bugfuck crazy. A friend of mine asked if I could show her anything else like Subconscious Cruelty... I had to say "no", explaining that there wasn't anything else like it, or even close. Certainly there are many directors with a similarly devil-may-care attitude for basic cinematic convention, with Hussain himself having been compared to both David Lynch and David Cronenberg on Subconscious Cruelty's original release. I don't know if that's quite right, though... he strikes me more as the out of control aestheticism of Dario Argento and the unconventional astructual mind of Tsukamoto SHINYA with the endlessly inappropriate sense of humor of Jörg Buttgereit. Even that isn't a totally fair description - after all, Hussain can have his own style and his own axe to grind - the fact that I'd try to construct this awkward parable says that I see a lot of very positive qualities in his first film. I proudly own the Sazuma "Ultrabit Edition" of the film, and I don't think my shelf was ever complete without that oversized 'Jesus Box' sitting atop of it.

The least offensive image in the entire film.

For years I've wanted to be brutalized once more by its' totally fearless and quite possibly deranged director, Canadian born Arthouse Terrorist(TM)* Karim Hussain. At last, that day has come in the form of his two feature length post-Subconscious Cruelty works...

ASCENTION is the tale of a world in which God is dead, and his power has dispursed to everyone. Now man is immortal, and even children capable of miracles like flying and resurrection. In this perfect world, three women - an old woman with a suitcase, an expecting mother, and a young girl - march toward the desolate power plant in which it's said that God died, the three of them there drawn by their dreams. Their goal is to destroy that which has killed God, and restore order and dignity to this perfect world in the only way left: by destroying it completely.

Ascention is, unfortunately, not a film that I enjoyed. Hussain himself acknowledges that the film is "difficult", and isn't shocked that even people who generally love 'pretentious' arthouse movies simply can't stand it (his words, not mine). I wouldn't go so far as to say that I hate the film, as there's a lot of technical quality and very deep rooted concepts on display, but I know he wouldn't be terribly hurt if I used the "p" word toward it: the film is pretentious as hell, and only rewarding if you can ignore the hour of largely inconsequential nothing to get to the good stuff, though frustratingly even the methodical and gruelling pace of the picture is, in and of itself, a sort of achievement. The opening 5 minutes showing the site of God's death, strewn with rotten bodies with their eyes clawed out, is certainly impressive, with narration informing us of the world we now inhabit. So far, sure, I'm all for it. And then we're treated to the following dialog.


"This is nothing."

"Just give me a second. I can take it, I've taken worse."

"No one has taken worse. Not even the inventor of pain."

"Just give me a second."

"How do you feel?"

"Like my heart's tearing to bits with each step."

"Imagine what it's like with two hearts tearing with each step. We're inside now, get used to it honey. In here dreams can only stay in our heads. No more miracles from now on; just dumb pruciple mud. You break, you shatter here.

"Perhaps I should climb up first then. Seeing as how your bodies are both... older."

...and my heart sank. This sort of introspective/overly explanatory dialog wasn't so out of place in Subconscious Cruelty, where we were privy to the abstract thoughts of a violent and potentially incestuous madman, but here it comes off as the worst sort of masturbatory and condescending bullshit. The dialog doesn't ever particularly get better, and once the three start climbing, don't expect much of a change of pace. Out of the 103 minutes the film runs, about half an hour of it is a masterpiece, and the rest is virtually excruciating. When one of the women noted "they were more than half way up" I was overjoyed, realizing the film must be more than half way finished, too.

A more fitting image for this title than you can possibly imagine.

A great deal of this self-indulgent snark is clearly intentional - how couldn't it be? Mankind has become God, and three self-righteous women with no right to change the fabric of time and space take it upon themselves to kill every living thing on the planet. While the pregnant woman will be given sufficient motivation for wanting to end the world, she herself is a positively horrible human being, brimming with sarcasm and venom towards the women she should consider her companions. The young girl is given considerably little to do, and the old woman is such a bitter old hag dealing with the pregnant woman that absolutely none of these characters are here to garner our sympathy: they're actually vying for the position of most hated bitch among them! The fact that the three lead actresses all have thick Quebec accents only makes their performances seem all the more infuriating, one saying that another's words "sound rehearsed". When none of them seem to be speaking proper English to begin with, how the heck can you tell?

If there was any doubt that the film had a sense of humor, however sick and off target it may be, I think the scene where they find the tape recorder settled it: the whole film is a cruel joke, and I'm afraid that if you have to explain a joke point by point, it isn't funny. The intentionally slow, daring pace is almost refreshing (even compared to the rest of Hussain's resume), and much of the actual trekking footage is watchable, but the problem is that they're all punctuated by seemingly endless scenes of these selfish and cold-hearted women pissing on about how terrible the world is. As such the film winds up being boring at best, and insufferably preachy at worst.

I honestly don't think it was Hussain's intent to spew bile at the audience for over an hour, but that's literally what he's done, and it wasn't until the final 25 minutes of the film that I was convinced anything but a few brief dream sequences and the opening five minutes would be worth mentioning. For all your suffering, you will be rewarded with the most beautiful - and yes, it is beautiful through all of the blood and tears - pieces of Hussain's directorial career in the form of the final reel. When the self-righteous trio have risen so high that death is fast approaching, they each must make a choice on not only how they will finish their journey, and why. Not only is the final reel touching, but it's exciting too! Coupled with the opening and a few of the more memorable bits from the middle of the film, you could have had a spectacular short running about 40 minutes that managed to do all of the positive things in the feature film. Unfortunately, those master work sequences are spread through a high concept that goes nowhere for over an hour, and the whole film becomes a train-wreck in slow motion.

It's perhaps best to sum the film up as "a fantasy film in which nothing fantastic happens". The whole experience is contradictory, and clearly had the potential to be something incredible. Perhaps Hussain should have relaxed just a little bit, and allowed miracles to take their due course?

It's almost a shame that a film so infuriating is simultaneously so beautiful.

It's never technically poor, at least. Actually the film looks gorgeous, despite its' desolate location and intentionally muted soundtrack and color palette. What few practical effects are scattered through the film are generally impressive, and when the film decides to be pretty - or ugly - it's damn good at it. There's zero doubt as it plods onward forever that Karim Hussain is a very talented man, I just feel like this particular film may be a waste of them, and that's a damned shame.

Even Ascension, however, is worth watching (once). While the film is painful, it's painful in a unique and unexpected manner that I can't rightly attribute to any other film I can remember. Much like a foreign delicacy that smells and tastes a bit like spicy and sweet rotten meat on rice, you'll never be able to say you don't like it without trying it, and something about it will stick out in your mind as being so bizarre and outside your usual comfort level that you'll wish you could try it just one more time. You really shouldn't; but at least you'll have that same level of doubt. Doubt that you managed to hate a masterpiece. But then you can try watching it again and... well, you'll see.

After this film, his short shot in the same year - La Dernière Voix/The City Without Windows - was very much a pleasant surprise. Running just 16 minutes, it details a world in which constant rain and a disease which silences mankind has left them only able to communicate in the most dramatic, and simple, ways possible. It shuns the all too dead and, honestly, boring bullshit of Ascention in favor of the brightly colored surrealism and detatchedly horrific images of Subconscious Cruelty, and for it the short is a masterpiece. It's almost impossible to believe that these two very different films were made in the same year, by the same man, but it's perhaps fitting that his most recent feature film would keep only the most vestigial of connections to his earlier works, and use Hussain's talents to craft something I never would have expected from him...

A baroque-modern family tragedy, La Belle Bête (The Beautiful Beast) is a seemingly largely literal adaptation of the French-Canadian novel of the same title (also available in English under the title "Mad Shadows"). Originally penned in 1959 by Marie-Claire Blais, La Belle Bête is a melodrama focusing on a family of three; the widowed Louise, the rebellious Isabelle-Marie, and the handsome (but retarded) Patirice. Isabelle-Marie has grown weary of her mother saying she's ugly and doting on the incompetent 'animal' she calls brother. She spends her time alone with Patirice torturing and manipulating the poor thing, furious that their mother only pays attention and compliments to the simpleton she's forced to look after. Louise's loneliness and fear for the family's own future drives her into the arms of a new man, but what tragic effects will introducing a fourth into this already toxic environment bring?

A horse is a horse, of course of course. Except when he's not.

Featuring brutal disfigurement, graphic medical procedures, and the strangest harbinger of malice I think I've ever seen, La Belle Bête is probably the furthest thing from a 'conventional' drama film in the minds of most audiences. And yet it's the closest thing to a conventional narrative that Hussain has put onto film so far. Sometimes directors known more for their visual style fall to pieces when they try to put their talents to use on a more linear plane - Lucio Fulci is an excellent example, I think - but I'm happy to report that Hussain was more than capable of reigning in his usual bag of tricks to deliver a film that logically moved from one place to another, and who's occasional eccentricity never distracted from the more logical whole surrounding them.

With the exception of the Harbinger itself, everything in the film relies on character motivation and believable situations, however grim and frustrating those motivations may be, and while the literal appearance of the Harbinger is surreal, the actions carried out is his presence are all too mundane. While every film prior to this shunned serious, complex character development in favor of presenting ideals in the forms of people, Karim Hussain has managed to craft an uncomfortably believable study of three all too mentally diseased individuals who, sad as it may be for the lot of them, share the bond of family, and will bear that cross until the mere concept of 'love' has been broken down into nothing. Narcisicm and jealousy are the monsters on display here, not the horse-headed beast, and the limited cast carry their roles off reasonably well in bringing those monsters to the front without turning their characters into parodies of selfish human nature.

Karim Hussain calls this a still from a "mainstream" movie. Which sums up why I love him.

It may seem unconventional on the surface, but La Belle Bête still marks Karim Hussain's first "mainstream" motion picture, as his first human drama that doesn't require a background in Jung to make heads or tails of. It's got strange imagery from time to time, but it's fundamentally the sad tale of a sick family, and it's powerful not because of the gore, but the performances and the trying situations themselves. It has some minor issues - I'm especially not a fan of the soundtrack, for example - but the film is a unique and enjoyable experience, which is more than I can say for Ascension.

While Subconscious Cruelty was a nearly 6 year long undertaking shot independantly on 16mm film, both Ascention and
La Dernière Voix were shot on glorious (but still very grainy) 35mm. Sadly, the increased visual quality of the former does nothing to elevate the film from its' own mediocrity, and perhaps if it had been shot on cheaper 16mm I'd have subconsciously forgiven its' almost entirely conceptual short-comings. La Belle Bête, in a surprisingly turn around, was shot on Super 16 and then blown up to 35mm, leaving the production extremely grainy and with drained color, looking uncomfortably like a made-for-TV movie that was, for some inexplicable reason, shot in scope. It's unfair to hold the film on which a project was produced against it if the reasons were purely economical, but I will say that had Ascension and La Belle Bête swapped production methods, the results might have been for the better. Even with this oddity, the former is still excellent, and the latter relatively awful, and had the two exchanged shooting mediums I'd still largely feel the same way.

As far as actually seeing any of these films, you'll likely need to be ready to import these babies. Xploited Cinema, Diabolix, HKFlix and any other fine purveyor or imported insanity should be able to hook you up, but since I loves you I'll point out what's worth your time:

La Belle B
ête is available on DVD from Warner Brothers exclusively in Canada complete with decent English subtitles, but the disc now seems to be out of print. Includes are an interview with the original author, a making-of, trailer, photo galleries, and a French language commentary track, none with English subtitles. The disc is Region 1/NTSC.

La Belle B
ête film is also available from Njuta Films of Sweeden, and while that edition does NOT have subtitles on the feature, it DOES have English subtitles on the making-of, and an English language commentaty track, though it lacks the author interview. Why present the featurette in English but not the film itself? I have no idea. This version is Region 2/PAL. I mention this non-English friendly release primarily because it comes in Njuta's Karim Hussain Collection (along with their respective releases of Subconscious Cruelty and Ascension - see below), so don't get it and expect to follow La Belle Bête - unless you speak French or read Sweedish, of course.

Subconscious Cruelty was released uncensored by Sazuma several years ago in a rather spectacular limited edition, with an English/German essay booklet in an oversized digipak style case (not unlike a softcover hartbox?), original trailers, a lengthy introduction by Karim Hussain, an alternate music track, a comic-review by Rick Trembles for the film itself, a feature length making-of (charmingly titled "Subconscious Cruelty Christmas"), the short
La Dernière Voix, and producer Mitch Davis' own Divided Into Zero (and its' own special features!) . The DVD set is Region 2/PAL, and one of my most prized posessions right now.

Njuta has since released Subconscious Cruelty as well, presenting the uncensored version of the film and Subconscious Cruelty Christmas like Sazuma did before them, but in place of Divided into Zero is a commentary track, deleted scenes, and the short film Facts of Safety, on which Karim Hussain was cinematographer. Region 2/PAL.
(Sadly, both of these editions of Subconscious Cruelty are NTSC-PAL conversions, but they're still dramatically better than the optically censored Japanese Happinet edition, which is short on extras too.)

Njuta also did good things for Ascention, including a commentary track, making-of, deleted scenes, original trailers, and
La Dernière Voix. The disc is unusual in that it's an NTSC European release, but it's still Region 2.
There was also a Happinet Pictures release in Japan, but it's more expensive and - I believe - has fewer special features, so the only advantage is the presence of a Japanese dub. I'm not convinced it's worth the investment with the Njuta release readily available.

Two out of three isn't bad after a decade of expanding his horizons, and as Karim Hussain also wrote the script for the spectacular Nacho Cerda film THE ABANDONED (which I won't get into here, as I need to talk about Cerda at length another time). I'm even more excited now that I know his next project, FILTHY, is going to be the story of a woman with a garbage fetish. It's certainly a far cry from the last two feature films he's made happen, but if there's anyone out there capable of making an excellent film about a horrible subject, I'm still convinced - even after a major disappointment - that Karim Hussain is our man.

I myself will make it a point to buy my own copy of the Njuta Films Karim Hussain Collection almost solely for the special features, despite Ascension not thrilling me and La Belle Bête not featuring any subtitles for the film itself. Karim Hussain is such an honest, charming individual that it took only 2 minutes of listening to him laughing about the violent reactions to Ascention to realize that regardless of the film he produced, he's not an ass who takes his work so seriously that he can't laugh at how absurd an anti-epic about destroying that which has already killed God really is. He's a funny, honest, good natured guy, and his films have the potential (and often are) just as cool as he is. I just hope he can successfully convince more producers that he's got the goods, too.

I really hope that, someday, we'll have a domestic video release of his work, particularly if those releases are on Blu-ray. But I already know from personal experience that art isn't cheap, and that the single most appropriate studio on these shores has already tried and failed to get the rights to his first (and probably most marketable) film, only time will tell.

*Wow... only in retrospect did it dawn on me how bad calling a man named 'Karim Hussain' an Arthouse Terrorist sounds. Oh well. I stand by it, and if he's half as cool as I think he is, he might even chuckle at the motion.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dear Diary: Today I Had My First Gokkun!

Ignore the strange gray subtitles. They're better now.

LILIA 3 will be a slightly more involved process, so that won't be an immediate release, but at least the first two episodes are finished... for now.

Oh yes, I do loves me some Himekishi Lilia, and as far as I'm concerned each episode just gets better and better. Sadly I've yet to see the fourth episode, despite now owning a copy of it. Just wait until the next episode if you really want to see me love something in ways that would hurt most people physically.

Princess Knight Diaries

What's sad is that I already know that I'll be doing a "2.0" version of Lilia, whittling the whole show down to 2 discs with a slightly better translation and, for good measure, English menus. But that can wait until I've convinced someone that's preferably not me to translate the final episode. For now, patches will do quite nicely.

HIMEKISHI LILIA/姫騎士リリア (Princess Knight Lilia) is indeed the heavily pixelated hint I gave a while back. Never seen is one of the masterpiece titles released by Pixy in Japan, a studio that decided long ago that they would market episodes at reasonable prices, charging only $20-40 per episode, which is currently about half the price that "big" ero-anime studios like Pink Pineapple or Discovery typically charge. Their shows are also some of the best out there, with Lilia - their first, and easily one of their best - standing firmly on the same ground as titles like Mahou Shoujo Ai as one of the few genuinely excellent tentacle pr0n titles to be released in the last few... well, released ever. Lilia also has dual-cocked ogres, circle jerks, and everything else the creative staff can think of to kick my jaded weiner right in the face. You won't like everything the show has to offer, but if you don't find something to love, you're on the wrong blog.

This particular title is a massive pain in the ass to subtitle, because the "Play All" and "Chapter" options actually go to different titles, still using the same VOB files. (I know exactly why they did it, but they didn't really have to - they just took the lazy man's route to make sure their asinine 27 chapters would still work.) The issue is that these different branches have different IFO CLUT files, which decides what colors the subtitles are. I finally found a work around, but this has made my brain bleed in ways I'd rather not acknowledge. Still, fucker's done now, and episode 2 will join it soon. Episode 3 will require some drastically different subtitle footwork, but it'll work out. Somehow.

And no, this isn't the only R2-only erotic animation series I've got left to play with. More details when there's something worth saying.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Horse, a Woman, a Dog, and a Pizza Place.

"Sato" Bootleg

Kentai Transfer

What you're looking at are two different MPEG encodes of the rarely seen 1990 Hisayasu SATO film, Uma to Onna to Inu (Horse, Woman, and Dog). It'll get done - restored, translated and subtitled - sooner rather than later.

Gotta' hand it to Shin Toho. So subtle, so subtle.

The history on this one is... strange. According to a third party from which my initial copy of the film originated, the double-feature DVD-R containing Uma to Onna to Inu, and its' psuedo sequel Umagoya no Reijou (Lady of the Stables), actually came from the director himself! Turns out somebody found Sato's eMail, and started sending him a bunch of messages asking him about his work, his inspirations, what he had for breakfast, whatever. Sato eventually figured out that if he could offer rare-as-hell films, maybe the well meaning stalker would leave him alone. I'm not too sure if it worked, but I do know that I have one of those rare VHS-to-DVD-Rs sent to the initial fan.

I also know that the DVD-R's quality was pretty friggin' awful.

So, some time later my buddy Caterpillar finds a pre-record for sale. He buys it, sends it my way, and I'm heart-broken to see that the tape has been abused to the point where the vertical synch drops out slightly every minute or two. The worst of it clears up by the time the credits are through, but it was really disappointing that such a rare and spectacular film was still a slightly in less than perfect condition. Still, I decided to record the whole thing and A/B the transfers, trying to decide if the occasional "blips" in the VHS were really any worse than the consistently terrible looking bootleg.

But don't take MY word for it! You can download short (and saucy) previews of both transfers.

Sato Bootleg

Kentai Project

The Sato transfer was deinterlaced, so watch the two of them in something like PowerDVD to avoid combing on the Kentai transfer. As you can see, there's quite a difference even as stills, but to really appreciate the oddities of both transfers, seeing them in motion is strongly recommended.

I'm already leaning on using the new Kentai transfer, for multiple reasons, but any and all input on the situation is greatly appreciated - and hey, you get to watch some obscene dog-porn in the name of science. Ain't life just grand?

Most certainly NOT what Sato was getting at.

...closer? Sure, why not.
CLOSER to what Sato was getting at.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Itami ga hoshi..."

I do want pain.

Without it, how would I make awesome multi-dub featuring custom DVDs of ICHI THE KILLER: THE ANIMATION EPISODE 0? The only thing I didn't do was re-build the Japanese menus, and since that would allow me to slip on the international extras, you wouldn't expect me to do all of that, would you?

Honestly, I'm just stoked that patching audio files was a relatively simple operation. Not "easy", exactly, but since all video releases are taken from more or less the same uncut NTSC version of the OAV, once I was sure I had properly synched the track to the video I just had to add it to the streams list like I would have the original DVD audio files.

Language Specifications:

*Audio Track 1: Japanese 2.0
*Audio Track 2: US English 2.0
Audio Track 3: UK English 5.1
-Subtitle Track 1: Full English Subtitles
-Subtitle Track 2: Sign English Subtitles

So who loves you more than Santa? That's right. Right here, kiddies.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Passagen Bootleg

Just wanted to throw out there that even when all I do is hit record, I still beat the shit out of the "competition".

Passage to Color

Original VHS Recording

AVI Synth Voodoo

The Nature of H.R. GIGER: PASSAGEN, a 1972 documentary sponsored by a German TV studio, made it very difficult to color correct. Not only is it as much a collection of paintings and drawings as much as it is talking heads, but each of those interview segments looks different, with one cast in blue interior lighting, another outdoor shot practically drenched in a golden glow. Giger's epic monochrome work was of unsurprisingly little help, so I decided to use the "white" optically printed subtitles as a guide. I could shift the chroma slightly so that those subtitles were more white than yellow, but then the rest of the film started to get very blue, with flesh tones looking very "off". My guess is that the colors are wonky as hell on the negative, due to either lens filters or varying film stocks, and with the all important artwork looking more "natural" the less I did to it, I decided that less was more and called it a day.

The levels and saturation, however, weren't so difficult, and I managed to give the film some strong blacks and vibrant whites without crushing or blooming anything in the process. I'm not 100% sure I'll keep the software based IVTC, but everything else is tickling my fancy quite nicely.

I noticed a bit of chroma smearing, and then remembered that my VCR has a built-in noise reduction chip that goes hand-in-hand with the TBC. The latter is so important that I'll learn to live with the former, even if - particularly on material with good 3:2 cadence - it isn't needed that badly. Then again, this is fairly gritty 16mm, though I guess the noise on display here is NOTHING compared to the ungodly level of nasty crunchy grit that was caked into every frame of the H. R. GIGER'S ALIEN short I recorded a while back.

That said, I'm considering a "back up" VCR on tapes that my HR-S9911U pukes all over. I've had a recent string of bad luck, feeding it tape after tape that, for some reason, it's TBC can't handle and the deck starts jittering up and down at frames with specific errors. Turning the TBC off cures the jitters, but it adds an even worse horizontal wave that's almost impossible to describe without uploading a clip of it. My second VCR would be a cheapie, and would lack all of the excellent calibration and time base correction capabilities of my current tank... but I guess even massive beast-machines can't cross moats, now can they?

Here's a few more "restored" caps compared to the initial VHS-to-DVD-R source:

So, what'cha think?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Undead Jailbait, You Say?

While there isn't technically anything 'wrong' with the Synapse release of the extreme zombie comedy STACY, Japan got a spiffy 15 minute making-of that we Yanks did not. So, yes, I am vain enough that I'd patch it out of spite to the licensors sitting on a few inconsequential interviews.

I also found the subtitles to be a bloody mess - and no, not in the good way. Not even the trying to be funny way that made me forgive the "Snoop Froggy Frog" and bondage-mayo-sex jokes in the GUINEAPIG: DEVIL DOCTOR WOMAN R1 subtitles. They're just... Engrish crap, honestly. I fixed the 700 or so lines up as best I could without re-translating the whole film from scratch, and I had thought they were ready to go as-is!

There's still a few scenes I know aren't quite right, the fact that the accidental Kentai Fansub translation is already dramatically better than the official R1 DVD reminds me why I started this insanity in the first place... quality.

Cute film, too. Picture the ultra-gory Japanese predecessor to Shaun of the Dead, with teenage girls skipping around and giggling shortly before they turn into cannibalistic monsters who get chainsaws shoved through their skulls. It's actually somewhat better than Tomomatsu's follow up NIHOMBIE: ZOMBIE SELF-DEFENSE FORCE, but as that film includes robots, CG calamari aliens and a lengthy send-up of the Zombaby from Braindead, I can't say I didn't enjoy it. That said, I still can't fathom that this is the same guy who made Eat the School Girl...

Anyway, you all know how to get it, if'n you want it.

P.S. Crap, I think I may have made the subtitles just a bit too low on the screen. I did the same thing with Inyouchuu, but all I really would need to do to fix them is load the discs in DVD Subtitle Edit and shift both tracks up by 5-10 pixels, save it, burn it and voila - incompetence gone!

Go easy on me, I'm using a completely new subtitling method, so I'm literally learning how to ride my computer-bike all over again. I must say, the subtitle themselves look MUCH nicer than anything Subtitle Creator was capable of spitting out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One ZILLION Dollars... not how much an XviD download of 赤い光弾ジリオン 歌姫夜曲/RED PHOTON ZILLION: BURNING NIGHT OAV will cost you. In fact, it's free! Just go HERE and download away!

Well, at least they aren't the Blue Balls...

The video bitrate is a one-pass real time VBR 1500 kbps, 128 kbps MP3 audio. The transfer has been filtered to hell and back, but the LD was pretty noisy to begin with, so A/Bing the "new" encode and the original DVD left me feeling pretty satisfied... by which I mostly mean disappointed in the former. XviD at 1/6 the bitrate of DVD looks passable, but far from good, so while this download will certainly be better than watching it on YouTube or, whatever, don't go in expecting miracles. You'll generally have to pay for those.

The 3:2 pulldown was shot, which isn't shocking on a 20+ year old LD transfer, so I had to deinterlace the whole thing. It's a shame, but not owning the negative there's not much else I can do. I also boosted the gamma, but found the black and white points to be tolerable.

Frustratingly, there's no AVISynth filter that can kill temporal dot-crawl (source frame for dramatic effect):

Dang it...

Having seen the analog input vs using the DV-IN, I've decided that there are worse things than crushed 4:1:1 colorspace, like the built in analog tuner filters that do little more than fade colors and add noise. Using the firewire port on my Lite-On recorder means I bypass all of the filters built into the tuner, which means I could skip bullshit like this completely! Of course, a new DV converter box will set me back about $200, which is about as much as the damn recorder cost me, so it'll be a short while before I get back to 'serious' video restoration. At least owning something like this will give me a chance to capture video without dropping frames... but wait, DV isn't natively recognized by AVISynth. Oh, this will be fun.

While neither freebies nor low bitrate MPEG-4 downloads are generally my style, it so happens that a friend of mine just finished the Zillion TV series, and never having watched the LD of the OAV that he's having me hold on to, he asked if I could encode something downloadable, just so he could see it. I'd have felt like quite the fantastic ass if I said "no", and thus, here we are. But why should he and I be the only ones who get to watch 21 year old OAV insanity?

The All State Frilled Lizard wants you to know that Geico isn't as cheap as you think it is.

The production behind Burning Night is certainly a strange one. Zillion was an original TV series created by Tatsunoko Pro, the studio that's produced everything from Speed Racer to Karas, and while the original series is about humanity defending the planet from an alien race who require Earth to survive, and fend them off with magical God created laser guns that can do anything the script requires. Seems logical enough for a 1987 TV show primarily designed to sell video games.

The OAV decided to stuff all that crap, and turn the cast into a cheesy rock band. What can I say? It was the 80s, after all.

Daw, it's soo cute... now go buy the trading figures.

The "plot" is as inconsequential as can be, with the cute idol singer Apple having been kidnapped by a psycho bitch who plans to marry her off to her ugly failure of a rapist son (voiced by every fangirl's hero Kaneto SHIOZAWA!), and both J-J and Champ, heroes of the original continuity, have to get their singer back. The cast also appears in CB form, having apparently sold their licenses to a children's TV program that pits them against the alien invaders, only instead of guns the super deformed band members use the power of J-Pop to defeat them. Oh, did I mention that the villains have a traitor in their midsts who's such a wanker he wears sunglasses in the unlit barb-wire covered hidden fortress?

I won't second guess the logic behind this, but Burning Night wasn't included on the remastered Japanese DVD box set released in 2004. The credits were clearly video generated, so for all I know they simply couldn't find the negative/didn't want to bother restoring it. Or maybe Tatsunoko realized how retarded the whole thing was and disavowed all knowledge. Still, not releasing it means they're not making money off of it, which means I have zero issue with giving it away for the world to enjoy. Heck, Tatsunoko sure isn't doing it.

The only non-Japanese release I'm aware of is the dubbed Streamline tape, which I actually own and is hidden in a closet somewhere, so a bi-lingual special edition could happen someday, assuming both I and my Zillion translating buddy ever give enough of a damn (and God help us, he probably will). Streamline released episodes 1-5 out of 31 under their ancient "Video Comics" line, but unlike Nadia, no other US studio ever liked it enough to finish what Macek had started.

I'm officially out of witty captions today. Cake, lying, you figure it out.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Toriyama was like... "huh?"

...but then he lol'd.

He's still laughing! See, recently Akira TORIYAMA made a written statement in response to the upcoming cinematic 3rd trimester abortion known in Yank Land as DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION. It's rare that I completely write off a film of even having a prayer of being watchable, but let's remember that we're going from this... this.

I swear to god, none of the photoshop here is my doing.

I'm not angry that one of the better 1980s shonen serials is getting a Hollywood adaptation. I'm not concerned that James Marsters is going to fuck up Piccolo. I'm just kind of stunned that this happened at all. There's been a sort of rennicanse over the last decade and change in learning to adapt comic material to the big screen - some of it more successful than others, we'll all admit - and I'll grant that experimental adaptations like Sin City and Watchmen would have been unthinkable, even just 5 years ago.

No, the problem is that Dragon Ball - even the more fighting aliens oriented "Z" part of it - is a candy colored world full of fat taffy men who turn their enemies into chocolate, and green martian Gods who vomit eggs which hatch into pure malicious hatred. Soft ball shaped spaceships bringing space monkeys who can demolish planets with a wave of their hand, and panties are - more often than not - worn as hats rather than knickers.

Storyboards stolen from the set of the live action Dragonball movie.

The problem isn't that Dragon Ball is too epic in scope, or too difficult to realize via CG, it's that the fabric of its very universe doesn't lend itself to live action any more than a Bugs Bunny cartoon or a Johnen Vasquez comic book does. There's no good that can come of this from the get-go, and the fact that the trailers are lifting shots from the manga - but NOT character designs or attitudes - prove it'll be an adaptation in the same way that Wanted or City Hunter or Casshern were adaptations of their source material. By which, I mean they weren't. At all.

So, what did Toriyama, original creator of the Dragon Ball manga have to say about the whole thing?

As the original creator, I had a feeling of "Huh?" upon seeing the screenplay and the character designs, but the director, all the actors, the staff, and the rest are nothing but "ultra" high-caliber people. Maybe the right way for me and all the fans to appreciate it is as a New Dragonball of a different dimension. Perhaps, this might become a great masterpiece of power! Hey, I look forward to it!!

I love that everything but the last two forced sentences are the same stunned, glazed eyed level of disbelief I myself had when I saw that not only was Chow Yun Fat going to play the grizzled old fireball launching perverted Turtle Hermit, but that he'd refused to shave his head and grow a moustache for the occasion. Because Chow Yun Fat would never, ever shave his head and grow a-

And to think, he gave up the chance to make RED CLIFF with John Woo for this train wreck...

At the very least, we know that no worse live action adaptation of a popular anime franchise could ever happen. I mean, the odds of-

...oh, right. That. Well, at least it has to be the SECOND worse in a long line of-

...hmm. Fisted by the North Star? Fair enough. I guess now it couldn't get any wo-


Well, you get the point. I could point out LESS awful anime/manga adaptations, like Makai Tenshou: Samurai Resurrection, Crying Freeman, Riki-Oh and even Ichi the Killer, but that just isn't nearly as much fun as rubbing people's noses in rancid stuff like The Guyver, The Wicked City and Dragon From Russia.

I have a feeling that when all is said and done, this will still be the better of the two.

Bwa-haha hah! Oh, how I wish I were kidding.