The Cultural Gutter

beyond good and bad, there is awesome

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Minoru Kawasaki: Look Back in Fun Fur

Carol Borden
Posted April 7, 2011

executive koala 80.jpgEvery April at the Gutter, the editors write about something outside their usual domains.  This month Comics Editor Carol Borden writes about movies.

This is not even close to a full retrospective, because while Minoru Kawasaki doesn’t have a huge number of films, many of them are not available with English subtitles and I don’t know Japanese. Regardless, I will pass along my love for a director whose work is marked by theriomorphic characters, the power of low-budget special effects and just plain joy.

Kawasaki’s work reflects the anxiety so often apparent in Japanse monster (kaiju) movies. In probably Kawasaki’s most famous movie outside Japan, The Calamari Wrestler, the antagonistic director of the Japanese wrestling federation attempts to convince a squid to throw a match to a human opponent, saying:

Nobody embodies the utter chaos in today’s Japan better than you. The threat of nuclear attacks, of terrorism, the rise of crime, mysterious viruses, the anxieties over an aging society, the economy, the politics. You’re perfect for the current atmosphere—you and your monstrous self.

In response to the many recent Fukushima-related articles about Godzilla as a nuclear entity, a friend pointed out to me that kaiju aren’t only about nuclear annihilation. Japan and Tokyo in particular have been destroyed over and over—from the Edo Fire to the Great Kanto Earthquake. Kaiju movies are also about the fragility of the human world and the permeable line between human and non-human. I have no idea of how to address the earthquakes and tsunami here, beyond suggesting everyone donate to relief efforts, I will turn to kaiju, monstrous selves and disaster film parodies instead.

The Calamari Wrestler / Ika Resuraa (2004)

The Calamari Wrestler is condensed Rocky I-III, if Rocky were a wrestler, Kan-Ichi Iwata (Osamu Nishimura), apparently reincarnated as a giant squid. The film’s Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is Koji Taguchi, who becomes an octopus in an attempt to defeat an invertebrate immune to joint locks, and then agrees to train Kan-Ichi to defeat the film’s Clubber Lang (Mr. T), the mysterious Squilla Fighter. Cut to an amazing squid training montage. And just to make sure these parallels are clearly intentional, Kan-Ichi’s girlfriend Miyako (Kana Ishida) dresses as Adrian for his final match. It combines the elements of kaiju movies, what it is to be a person, with those of boxing and wrestling movies and their focus on family, love and sacrifice. But it’s also a little reminiscent of movies like Samurai I-III as swordsman Miyamoto Musashi learns to channel his emotions through Zen teaching. Kan-Ichi must control his passions or lose his squid form.

kawasaki 250.jpgExecutive Koala / Koara Kacho
(2005)

Almost a Brian De Palma psychological thriller, but with a giant koala in a suit, taekwondo and an Australian atrocity at the heart of it. An amnesiac Koala working for a pickle company is haunted by the disappearance of his wife, Yukari, and nightmares of murdering his girlfriend, Yoko. As Mr. Tamura tries to make a distribution deal with a Korean kimchi company, he discovers that his dreams might be real. His sharp-suited rabbit boss, a mysterious Korean businessman skilled in taekwondo, and frog convenience store clerk know more than they say. I love how straight this film is played. It might be boring starring Liam Neeson or Alec Baldwin, but I love a koala salaryman caught between memory and dream, his present and his past. I especially love the creepy scenes of him as an ax-murderer, pupils alternately blinking red

Rug Cop / Zura Deka
(2006)

Rug Cop is one of Kawasaki’s more human-focused films. It’s very 1970s rogue cop drama. A detective pushed too far, loses his badge and learns to harness the awesome power of his rug.  Detective Genda (Fuyuki Moto) is a balding detective who is assigned from one station to another till he finally joins the station of ragtag misfits: Detectives Shorty, Handsome, Fatty and Big Dick who all use their physical abilities to keep the streets safe. With his trusty toupee, Genda faces down a bank-robbing ventriloquist dummy and, ultimately, terrorists threatening to destroy Tokyo with a nuclear weapon. But could these terrorists know something about his rug’s mysterious past?

World Sinks Except Japan / Nihon igai zenbu chinbotsu(2006)

The Japanese desperately attempt to deal with millions of gaijin refugees after the World Sinks Except Japan. It is resonant of “the current atmosphere,” possibly too resonant. World Sinks Except Japan is based on a very short Tsutsui Yasutaka novella satirizing the 1973 movie, Japan Sinks, remade in 2006. Several of the actors in World Sinks Except Japan appeared in 1970s film and tv versions ofJapan Sinks*. If it were the work of any other director, it would be almost unwatchably scathing**, but it is Kawasaki and so fun.

Three reporters cover the sinking of the world and the arrival of gaijin refugees in Japan. The leads play these roles very straight, providing a great background for absurdity, especially for Prof. Tadakora, who explains events scientifically before promptly going mad. World Sinks Except Japan features a cavalcade of white people acting, including a very Canadian-sounding John Heese as the President of the United States. That very few of the white people playing refugees sound like where they’re supposedly from adds a certain charm for me, as does the disparity in acting skill between the Japanese actors and the various gaijin actors–a perennial fact in Japanese films with gaijin actors. (Incidentally, there’s a nice moment when a gaijin character performs in Chushingara: The Next Generation. White people even wreck The 47 Loyal Ronin).

Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit! / Girara no gyakashu: Toya-ko Samitto kikipattsu (2008)

World leaders gather at Lake Toya near Sapporo for the G8 Summit. The proceedings are interrupted by the kaiju, Guilala. While Monster X Strikes Back is fun, I found it less engaging and effective than other Kawasaki movies in part because there are so many human people in it and so little Guilala. Here Guilala embodies the inability of world leaders to deal with crises without making them worse. I appreciate that, but Guilala is the best part of the movie for me. The scenes where villagers summon Take-Majin (Takeshi Kitano) to fight Guilala are fine, but the scenes in the constantly-renamed command room with the world leaders performed by much less talented gaijin actors suffer terribly in comparison, even in comparison to a short-pantsed little boy straight out of Gamera or Godzilla’s Revenge who pops up in the leaders’ chamber to name Guilala and then is dragged out by men in riot gear.

*Lorne Green serves as the intermediary in the English-language release of Japan Sinks! / Nihon Chinbotsu, aka, Tidal Wave.

**For example, the film’s prime minister  of Japan advising the Chinese and South Korean
presidents to pray more often at what seems to be the Yasukuni Shrine
because, “Japan is the land of the Gods.”

~~~

Carol Borden likes you and your monstrous self.

Comments

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Actor, director, writer and artist Leonard Nimoy has died. Nimoy was most famous for playing Spock in Star Trek, but he also appeared in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), In Search Of…, Ancient Mysteries, Columbo, Fringe, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Faerie Tale Theatre, Mission: Impossible, Dragnet and Bonanza.  Nimoy directed Three Men And A Baby (1987), two Star Trek films and an episode of Night Gallery (“Death on a Barge”) among others. The New York Times and The Guardian have obituaries. Here are some tweets from William Shatner’s online memorial for Nimoy. George Takei remembers Nimoy. Zachary Quinto remembers Nimoy. EW also has other remembrances, including one from President Obama. Code Switch’s Steve Haruch discusses Spock’s importance as a biracial character. Nimoy talks about his work at the Archive of American Television. You can see some of Nimoy’s photography here. And a reminder that Nimoy had an Etsy shop.

    ~

    At Graveyard Shift Sisters, Ashlee Blackwell considers Jonathan Demme’s Beloved as a horror film as part of their Black History & Women In Horror Month series. “Beloved takes us on one journey of the Black American experience of slavery through the body of a Black female protagonist.”

    ~

    Watch Nigerian writer and director Nosa Igbinedion’s Oya: The Coming Of The Orishas here.

    ~

    At Bitch Media, Sara Century wonders why Michonne isn’t in charge and considers which medium is better for the ladies of The Walking Dead: comics or tv. “As I was thinking about the numerous questionable writing choices made with these could-be-so-great female characters, I got to wondering, which medium is better for the ladies of The Walking Dead: the TV show or the comic? In other words, which one is less sexist?

    I wrote up a short list of the main female characters that appear both on the show and in the comic to decipher the differences in how these women are written. These descriptions contain spoilers through season five of the TV show, because it’s impossible to write about The Walking Dead without talking about how people die all the time.”

    ~

    Vixen Varsity shares Olufemi Lee-Johnson’s tribute to Milestone Media and Dwayne McDuffie. “For the first time in my life, I was around comic writers of color telling stories that mirror or surpassed the storylines of America’s favorite heroes. Icon dealt with being the ultimate immigrant and not understanding current black culture. Rocket (Raquel Irvin) was his guide, but also aspired to be more than just a woman in the projects. Static (Virgil Hawkins) was just a normal teenager dealing with fitting into school and then was put into this extraordinary circumstance of being a hero. Hardware (Curtis Metcalf) wanted respect from his mentor, but later learned about the bigger picture when it came to being a hero and the characters from Blood Syndicate…they were just trying to make it day by day and maintain their respect as a gang.”

    ~

    At Soundcheck, John Schaefer talks with Jim Jarmusch about “making music for someone else’s films, and a penchant for walking the tightrope between narrative and abstract art in his own movies. And if you thought his C.V. was looking a little thin, Jarmusch is also working on an upcoming opera about the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla, with Robert Wilson and composer Phil Kline.” (Thanks, Kate!)

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: