Saturday, January 04, 2014

Samuel L. Jackson Presents...

"Why does Samuel L. Jackson always play a black guy?"
- Perhaps the single greatest YouTube comment of 2014.

A full-length trailer and an R-rating ready sizzle reel for the long-delayed live action adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu's 1998 masterpiece, [A] KITE, is finally upon us. I had assumed this was going to sink into obscurity with the death of director David. R. Ellis, the uh... "visionary" behind Snakes on a Plane and Shark Night*, but when Ellis passed away last January it was completed by Ralph Ziman, who's mostly known for Gangster's Paradise: Jeruselama. No word on who'll be distributing the film yet, but with it having been produced by our friends at The Weinstein Company, it wouldn't surprise me if they release it themselves, at least in North America.

* I mean as little disrespect as possible saying that - you guys know I love garbage. But the man did, honestly, make a movie in which all of this happens.

The results look... about how you'd expect, I'm sure. I have no idea what the budget on this project was, or how much of it was shot before Ellis died, but the fact is this looks like a cheap straight-to-DVD movie I wouldn't give the time of day to, were it not for the fact that it's - technically, at least - a new adaptation of one of my favorite pieces of media ever spawned. The acting isn't looking too hot, and while it's clear the cinematographer was going out of his way to try and emulate Umetsu's original anime, it just comes off as dull and uninspired without the hyper-human movement, excruciating tactile pain, and pop-cultural self awareness that the OVA was so damned good at delivering.

I finally own this damned thing, for the record.
Took me nearly a decade to track one down.

I'm also not sure what the hell Samuel L. Jackson's talking about when he says that Kite has a "Graphic Novel". Umetsu did release a single Mezzo Danger Service Agency manga, adapting the TV series of the loosely affiliated Kite spin-off Mezzo Forte, but the closest thing to a "Kite Graphic Novel" I'm aware of was the short pornographic comic Yasai, which was included in the A Kite: Complete Work Book as a point of comparison, since some of the ideas present in that short wound up in the OVA. I'm not trying to give Sam any shit - he's consistently proven himself to be a cool guy, and is a surprisingly competent actor when he feels like turning off his Jules persona, and I have little doubt that he's a big fan of Black Lagoon and Ninja Scroll - I just have no fucking idea what he's on about, and that's... weird.

I'm also just gonna come out and say it: What the FUCK is up all this parkour bullshit set to Matrix color filters? The only time that was remotely acceptable was in Punisher: Warzone, and if you've seen it, you know why. I wish that I was more into the idea of this being a Financially Ruined Dystopian State, as that sort of thing usually tickles my fancy, but this iteration appears to have distanced her from her captor - Akai in the original, now possibly "Ymir" for the movie? - seems like a wasted opportunity.

Part of the main appeal for me in the OVA was the fact that it looked at the premise of Leon: The Professional and asked the basic question "What if Jean Reno's character wasn't an honorable man?" Sawa's life as a weapon was a tragic one, made all the worse by the fact that she's simply tuning reality out to ignore the obvious truth that the man who takes care of her through her formative years not only murdered her family, but has been using her as a sex slave since she was barely even an adolescent. This is why I can't stand the edited version: It has far less to do with "hot loli action" and more to do with the question of why Sawa continues to stay with Akai if she has the power to deny him in the first place. It's certainly gross, but a believable, fascinating gross that puts Sawa in the position of being forced to stand against the man she sees both as her father and her boyfriend. Worse yet, Akai knows how she sees him and uses it against her at every turn. Removing him from the equation makes Sawa's development much less interesting at a glance...

Pictured: A broken doll who's lost all hope, and a Manic Pixie Assassin Girl.
(They're not much the same other than having a similar design, is the point.)

She's hardly the Sawa we know from Umetsu's universe, is she? Frankly with her gaudy hooker gear and neon wig, she looks more like a shittier Hot Topic version Mikura, and her self-serving and violent attitude are a far cry from the cold, lifeless "Welp, got a job to do." persona Sawa exudes in the Kite OVA. Clearly this is a "costume" the heroine wears to attract predators, a bit like the 'transformation' that takes center stage in Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, but... goddamn it, do yourself a favor and don't invite comparisons like that unless you're a Death Wish 2 level entry. I wouldn't be surprised if whoever was overseeing this project's pre-production decided some inspiration from Mezzo Forte was appropriate, but that just calls into question why they're pretending this is an adaptation of Kite in the first place, instead of an original movie that happens to re-use the exploding bullets concept.

Wait a tic... actually, why are Sawa and Oburi "Japanese" if neither character is Japanese, nor is the story set in anything resembling Japan? I know that's a minor thing that doesn't make much difference in a Sci-Fi setting, but it's always a bit weird to see names kept but not locations. Sort of like how it was always weird that Leonardo "White as 2% Milk" DiCaprio was supposed to play a punk kid named "Kaneda". Actually, the 'punk kid' part might be harder to swallow these days, but I'm getting off track...

India Eisley as... waitasec, Sawa?
We're sure that's who she's...? Oh. Wow.

It's ironic, this hot-pink mess of a character design that looks like a stereotype of what Americans think "Anee May" looks like, as opposed to actually looking anything like Umetsu's largely grounded, hyper-realistic visual sense. Hell, it's actually more obnoxious than the crimson haired oiran in Takashi Miike's Imprint, and he specifically requested that over the top choice because he figured that's how Americans think Japan actually looks!

But whatever, context is everything, and I can't say my hopes for this were ever all that high. I can't with a straight face say this looks any worse than the infamously unbearable Tony Randel directed Fist of the North Star movie, and while this looks bad, at least it doesn't look like it was actively trying to take a dump on the source material, which seemed to have been the driving philosophy behind Dragon Ball: Evolution. And I'd say "Don't forget how bad Devilman was!", but seriously, if you ever saw that god-awful turd, you should repress it hard - harder than that time your "uncle" from across the street taught you how to play Butt Ball in his basement, and then promised he'd stab you in the eyes if you ever told anyone about it.

The premise of Umetsu's OVA - when stripped of its psychological nuance and grim atmosphere, is basically "cute girl assassin who lost her family beats the shit out of larger men with explosive results". If we're lucky, the film will be an inoffensive and disposable ode to its source material that can sit alongside not-particularly-noteworthy live action productions like Shamo, Crying Freeman, and The Guyver: Dark Hero. It's certainly not looking like the next Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, Cutey Honey or even The Wicked City - films that found a way to make their absurd source material work in new and perhaps infuriating ways - but we can rest assured that, if nothing else, it'll be far from the worst of these projects we've ever seen. I mean, shit man, do you remember what a mess that live action Perfect Blue movie was?

Yeah, I grabbed the right cover - why do you ask?

Addendum: Despite the release having been cancelled for about a year now due to the film negatives being heavily damaged, Media Blasters now swears that they've got plans to re-release the Kite OVA on Blu-ray to coincide with the new live action film. They also claim they have "big plans" for Kitty Media in 2014, but refuse to give any actual details beyond that... infuriatingly, they won't say if these two things are directly related, which means we might still get the OVA in HD, but only the butchered "Director's Edit" which removes all of the graphic sex entirely. You all know by now how far we can trust anything John Sirabella says, so I personally refuse to get my panties in a tizzy until RightStuf themselves claim the title is shipping.


Anonymous said...

Terrible trailer for live action "Kite" What a completely dull looking movie...I mean visually it is pure yucky. It would have looked significantly better if it was shot on film, and even then the color scheme isn't doing anything for me.

BluMeino said...

Big plans for Kitty Media, eh? You mean releasing the same old shit over and over and claiming its a new release? I do hope they at least attempt to give the uncut Kite a chance on BD, I refuse to watch the edited version.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Unrelated anime question for Kentai or anyone else:

Having never seen Gurren Lagann but enjoying the director's other works, is £84.27 a decent enough price for the Anime Ltd. release? That comes out to $135.85 right now according to Google and that's a hefty price, so I figured I'd wait until a US release.

Then I noticed that there is one, and it seems to be the same set released in Japan and at the same outrageous price of $500+. So it seems my options are to either get fucked or mega-fucked.

Suppose there's any chance for Aniplex or anybody else to do a much cheaper, US-specific set at some point?

Kentai 拳態 said...

Kriztoffer Swank: I'm afraid that Aniplex USA has already released their "new and improved" North American DVD box set, which is basically the same thing as the insanely expensive JP BOX - just in standard definition.

A lot of people stamped and grumped that it was basically the same as the (then cheaper) Bandai "Anime Legends" set, but that wasn't ever a fair comparison: With the new Aniplex DVD set you get both movies* and the GurePara music videos, the soundtrack on CD and a sexy new artbook and collector's box - all very nice in its own right, but not quite nice enough to convince me to buy the show on DVD for a third time.

Yeah, I've bought it twice and I don't even have the damned thing on Blu-ray yet... it's that good.

The first movie (CHILDHOOD'S END) is basically a clipshow of the first 15 episodes with a big, flashy new set piece at the end. It's neat, but not a masterpiece. The second (THE LIGHTS IN THE SKY ARE STARS!) starts out the same way, but goes so far off the beaten path it's basically a surprise remake.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

So are you thinking there may not be a chance for a local Blu-ray release?

I've got the UK set on pre-order just to take advantage of the lowest price should I decide to get it. I've got some months to sit on it. Comes to around $120, which is a lot, but I heard this is a really good show and it's supposed to come with the movies and such, too. Only like 2,000 of that edition being pressed, so if a US release doesn't come out, I'll be really bummed I missed out on this one.

Anonymous said...

So Kentai, any verdict on the premiere of Umetsu's Wizard Barristers?

Kentai 拳態 said...

Kriztoffer: As far as Aniplex is concerned, the English-friendly Japanese box set *IS* the "US Release". The odds of them discounting it - at least short of a drastic change in policy from the higher-ups at Aniplex Japan - are pretty much null.

Leo: I've been so busy I haven't watched anything in a month. Well, except for THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Which I saw five weeks later than I'd purchased a ticket for.

Rest assured, WIZARD BARRISTERS and the season premiere of ARCHER are about the only things that matter to me this week. We'll see if it deserves a full blown write-up or not.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

I'm not too familiar with Aniplex. Are their US business practices similar to Bandai USA's? Japanese pricing, virtually the same product as overseas, etc. Pretty bogus.

Hopefully Anime Ltd. are able to release Macross Plus and maybe even the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross. I'm pleased with the Bebop and Perfect Blue BDs I have and I like their speed (and allowance) to get these things out sooner.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Aniplex is... complicated. That's kind of the thing that drives people nuts, too.

Some of their Blu-ray releases - Rurouni Kenshin, Garden of Sinners, Fate/Zero and, sadly, Gurren Lagann - are literal imports that happen to be English friendly. They throw in a pamphlet translating the booklet, send a thousand copies to RightStuf, and that's... basically the end of it. The releases are always high quality and have gorgeous packaging, but more often than not pre-ordering from Amazon Japan is actually *cheaper* than the "US Alternative", which makes the value of that little pamphlet dubious, at best.

Other times they create US specific releases with "new" English subtitle options, and the results are about half the price of a Japanese set - Bakemonogatari, Durarara!, Madoka Magica and... probably others I can't remember off hand. The price hovers right in the middle between what you'd expect to pay FUNimation and friends and what the JP import price would be - Madoka Magica was $120 for 12 episodes*, and that's about the norm for those sets.

Finally, if they're releasing an "Import" Blu-ray, they'll typically do a DVD box set in pricing that's roughly comparable to the American market. Perhaps the most dramatic example is OreImo, where the R1 DVD costs $45 and the "import" Blu-ray costs $280. I liked the show more than I could have expected, but nearly $300 is more than I can spend on it with a clear conscience. (Not with the giant pile of

Aniplex has basically decided that DVD is "good enough" for the scabs in the US market expecting their animoo for next to nothing. With this in mind, you may be better off buying Aniplex titles from either Madman or Anime Limited in general... you won't get all the digipacks and thick-ass booklets, but you'll save some serious dough in the process.

* Madoka Magica also had a "Limited Edition" set with a booklet, posters, postcards and CD along with DVD/BD copies. Those were $75 each (3 SKU's = $225 for the whole show), and amusingly enough, Aniplex said they sold far more of the expensive LE versions than they did of the single DVD or BD release.

Anime collectors - as in, the tiny number of people who actually pay for anime - clearly *want* bells and whistles more than they want rock-bottom prices, which is why Aniplex's business model... kinda' works.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to disagree with your analysis on the sex scenes in Kite. Your thoughts on the scenes certainly added more to the movie than the actual scenes themselves did in the movie.

The problem is that they aren't treated like rape scenes meant to further the main character's internal conflict. They're treated like straight up porn using as many frames as possibly to get right into the thick of it. You don't have to I Spit On Your Grave territory with the rape, but at least don't make it sexy. Any sense of meaning to the scenes are lost thanks to the fanservice in them.

Or at least that's what I feel.

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