Postmodern Idiosyncrasies Presents: The Insomniacs’ Theatre II
Insomnia, for all its woes and all the physical and psychological problems it compounds, frees up a lot of extra hours in the day; even on the metrics of an overly-introspective post-sane oaf. Unfortunately though for every occasion on which the internal-censor is eroded away, leaving unfettered thought and unbridled imagination unimpeded, a similar amount of time is spent in a semi-aware state of wearied inaction. But we make hay when the metaphorical sun of the former shines, and when it sets and the kind of exhaustion which makes your bones leaden and immovable comes creeping with the dusk, we watch films instead… The Insomniacs’ Theatre bids you welcome, again, for a quadruple bill of Japanese cinema.
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The Machine Girl
Beginning our quartet with The Machine Girl we start as we hope won’t go on, with a schlock horror approach to low-budget gore and upskirt and ripped-shirt shots of fetishized schoolgirls abounding unrestrainedly. A tech/body-shock horror with little to say about anything much at all its most unpleasant and boredom provoking moments of bloody violence have no particular connection to anything that’s being said or done in the film and exist only to show how creatively cruel writer/director Noboru Iguchi can be. There’s a ham-fisted melodrama and camp to the vast majority of the film which make it reminiscent of half-remembered moments from Power Rangers or similarly-styled shows given a sanguine twist to make it an amoral and voyeuristic Grand Guignol whose scant moments of unearned earnest jar awkwardly. In both there’s a lack of subtlety which even Saban would have balked at, and a weirdly persuasive feeling that the appeal to the lowest stereotypes in ideas and aesthetics make the film racist towards the country of its conception and execution.
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Escalation, it seems, is the order of the moment, alongside subtitles, with the switch to animation allowing an increased focus on scenes of sexual violence which include rape/tentacle rape) as a punishment for desertion and an otherworldly assassin with a particularly grotesque take on the concept of vagina dentata. But there’s no necrophilia, so that’s a plus… Throw those worst moments into a plot which has a main character playing out a ‘comedy’ sex-pest and a generally backwards approach to any issues of gender and it’s hard to stop rolling one’s eyes at the offensive clichés long enough to see the film’s more defensible qualities. Adapted from Hideyuki Kikuchi’s 1985 novel of the same name, Wicked City brings tropes from fantasy, cyberpunk and noir together and plays them off one another for the horrors they evoke, making the imaginative from the familiar and lending its creations an uncanny air which stokes the fear which motivates the characters. It’s not necessarily enough to overcoming the gleeful portrayal of the evils that the antagonists engage in, but it’s enough that the film is not without merits and reasons to watch it.
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Death Note/Death Note 2: The Last Name
Rounding up our programme with a pair of films which tell a single story (thereby making our quadruple bill a mere triple feature) we finally escape the discomfort of the sexploitation and gore by which we so unwittingly began and then continued the run. The Death Note films, an adaptation of manga which has been also been adapted into a thirty-seven episode anime series, drop the depth of ideas for a few singular ones around which an internecine and labyrinthine plot is constructed. Though at its most simplistic in these live-action adaptations the plot remains convoluted and interesting enough to engross at even the most ungodly of hours. Some of the special effects are a little rubbery; the special detextured shimmer with which CGI is often afflicted is in evidence a fair amount, and a couple of the supporting roles are played with a relish which skews towards the cartoonish, but the lead performances of Tatsuya Fujiwara & Kenichi Matsuyama more than make up for any dramatic shortcomings. The Death Note films are the pick of this crop then, even if the measure only took their lack of exploitative content into account, but are worth tracking down.
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Don’t worry if you missed this selection from the week’s programme: The Insomniacs’ Theatre is open fifty-two weeks a year.