June 2000

Tetsuo : The Iron Man

Tetsuo : The Iron ManTetsuo is an amazing film and one of the best Ive seen - if not the best. Right from the horrifyingly visceral opening sequence - which starts with a metal fetishist forcing an iron bar into his leg, and ends with him running into the path of an oncoming car - Tetsuo beats you around the head with imagery, ideas and sensations.

Tetsuo works on several levels. At its simplest (although nothing in this film can really be described as simple), its a revenge driven horror/thriller in which the metal fetishist returns to torment the driver who ran him over and whose behaviour following the accident (shown in flashbacks via a TV screen) is odd, to say the least.

On top of this, both the fetishist and the driver have become infected by metal. This infection is dehumanising for both men (a process which is underlined by not naming any of the characters in the film) not only physically, but also psychologically. However, the way they are affected is initially very different with the driver, who tries to resist the infection quickly becoming a mass of wires, solder and steel. The, clearly insane, fetishist embraces the infection - in fact it isnt clear (to me, at least) whether he was killed in the car accident and revived by the metal or whether he survived - and, initially, appears to be not only in control of his own infection but also that of the driver.

The pacing of this film is incredible. The plot rushes forward, bombarding you with events and scenes so rapidly that you really do need to watch it twice just to get a handle on what exactly is going on. This, combined with the immense amount of stop-motion animation used throughout, gives the film a very surreal feel - probably the closest anyone is going to get to a live action anime.

The main themes of this film explore the encroachment of industrialisation on nature and the dehumanising effect of becoming over-reliant on technology. These are complex issues and well handled not spoon-feeding the audience but simply battering you with a plot in which these ideas are integral, necessary and assumed. There is no pause to explain any of this, its simply left to sink in after the film has finished. This approach makes Tetsuo a very thoughtful film, but only to an audience that is willing to think about it.

Tetsuo is much more than just a film. Its an experience akin to taking a vertical rollercoaster ride straight down. Its also and experience that shouldnt be missed.

Perdita Durango

Perdita Durango This is a great film that combines themes of love, loyalty, honour and revenge into a darkly comic road movie that grips your attention from the start and doesnt let go until the final scene.

Rosie Perez plays the dangerously sexy Perdita Durango, a woman still haunted by the shooting of her family when she was young. She meets Santeria priest and all round criminal, Romeo Dolorossa (Bardem, playing a character who manages to combine graverober, bankrobber, gunrunner and drugrunner before the film has started!). Together, they cross the US/Mexican border. Although considering Dolorossas Santeria beliefs to be nonsense, Durango is turned on by watching a ritual and convinces Dolorossa to go further.

Durango and Dolorossa procede to embark on an increasingly violent cross-border crime spree while events and characters around them steadily close in, building to an inevitable but well executed climax.

Rosie Perez In some ways Perdita Durango tries to follow the same themes of honour and vengeance that are familliar from the Heroic Bloodshed films that Kong Kong directors John Woo and Ringo Lam are so good at. Dolorossa, especially, has a clear if perverse sense of honour and turns quickly to violence and murder to defend it. Where the film differs, however, is in the way that Dolorossa is generally not the person seeking revenge, but the villain against whom revenge is sought - sometimes through his own actions, at other times because of events of which he is unaware.

Also, the supporting cast are superb. The two-dimensional teenagers, Duane and Estelle who become victims of Durango and Dolorossa suffer a barrage of violence and abuse, but because their characters are stereotyped to the point of not being particuarly believable, this abuse can be and often is played for laughs. The accident-prone survivor of a DEA agent, Woody Dumas (Gandolfini) receives a battering that is normally not seen outside of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons. And his mechanically dull partner Doyle (Cox) is a joy to watch.

Javier BardemOn the face of it, this film has no likeable characters and a black humour that is often sick. But Durango and Dolorossa are treated sympathetically and their characters do develop as the film progresses. You do find yourself caring what happens and, at the end of the day, thats what matters. Watch this film with an open mind, you wont regret it.

A Chinese Ghost Story III

A Chinese Ghost Story III With A Chinese Ghost Story, director Ching Siu-Tung both popularised and gave a name to the genre of frenetic, chop socky laden romantic ghost stories which were coming out of Hong Kong in the 1980s. In this third outing, however, its all starting to look a bit repetitive.

The film opens with a quick pre-credits recap of what happened in A Chinese Ghost Story and then jumps forward 100 years to find another Buddhist monk travelling through the area with his inept student, Fong (Tony Leung). They come to an unnamed town in which a Ghost Festival is being celebrated and find the place full of shifty, dishonest and downright dangerous characters all there for a weapons market.

After a couple of scrapes, the pair decide to spend the night in a haunted temple on the basis that, as Buddhists theyll be safe from the ghosts and no-one else will dare enter.

The story then follows a very familliar course of monk meets ghost, monk and ghost fall in love, etc., etc. And more than anything else, this is what lets the film down There really arent any surprises and, watching it, you can easily see what is going to happen next In short, its all a bit too formulaic.

That said, its not a bad film. Some of the jokes work pretty well, especially the ones involving the money obsessed warrior Yin (Jacky Cheung). Also, the relationship between Fong and Lotus (Joey Wang) is both highly charged and effective. The supernatural effects are pretty good in places, but again, theres nothing here that I havent seen in other Chinese Ghost Stories.

In short, if youve never seen a film of this type before, you could do a lot worse than renting A Chinese Ghost Story III. But there are a lot of much beter films that this genre has to offer.

Princess Mononoke

This film is a masterpiece. An epic tale, set in feudal Japan, of a war between gods and men and love across the divide. Not only does it tell a powerful story with a scope that is as wide as it is deep, but the animation itself is technically brilliant and spectacular in itself.

The film opens with the hero, Ashitaka, on the outskirts of his village when it is attacked by a cursed boar-god, replete with writing black worms. Ashitaka fights and manages to kill the boar-god, but not without being wounded by it, thus being infected with its curse. As such, the village oracle tells him that he must travel west to see the source of the curse, somehow related to the metal rock found in the boars body, with his own eyes.

So out he goes into the world beyond his village which he discovers to be a wilder and more selfish place than the peaceful village he calls home. After several adventures, during which he discovers that when the adrenaline starts pumping, the curse gives him incredible strength, Ashitaka winds up at the town of Tatara Ba, home of the Tatara clan.

Tatara Ba lies on the edge of a forest which, under the direction of their leader, Lady Eboshi, the Tatara clan are rapidly clearing in order to satisfy the demand for the charcoal needed to heat the furnace of their ironworks upon which the entire town depends. Unsurprisingly, the Great Forest Spirit is none too pleased about this systematic deforestation and a war has erupted between the people of Tatara Ba and the gods of the Forest - including the tribe of Moro, the wolf god and queen of the forest and her adopted human daughter San - the Princess Mononoke.

Ashikita finds himself thrust into the middle of this situation and, despite his best efforts to find a peaceful solution, it soon becomes clear that this war will not end until one of the protagonists dies.

The British/American view of animation still largely places it in the category of childrens entertainment. Princess Mononoke is not a childrens film. It deals with themes that are both complex and adult, such as environmentalism and encroaching industrialisation. Also, the characters are all full and well rounded individuals. There is no simplistic division of good and bad here - just people, faced with choices and making decisions that we can all identify with.

A couple of final thoughts regarding the films distribution

The version I watched was in Japanese with English Subtitles. Miramax, the films American Distributor have brought in a group of well known actors - including Gillian Anderson - to dub the film. While Im not convinced that dubbing is ever a good idea, it the mouses wayward son manages to build a larger audience for Anime, we can only wish them well.

However, Miramax only have the US distribution rights to the film. In Europe Disney are distributing the film through Buena Vista, who appear to be doing nothing with it. Whether this is because of incompetance or Mulan remains to be seen