Death Fears No EVIL in Takashi Miike’s “First Love” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)


Orphaned boxer Leo grows up to be an up-and-coming star in the sport. After losing a match by TKO from a soft punch, Leo is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that sends himself into despair. In another part of town, the established yakuza and the imported Chinese mafia boil toward an inevitable war over turf and drugs. When Kase, a junior enforcer, betrays his yakuza family, scheming with a crooked cop to steal drugs for profitable gain, the tide turns blood red as the yakuza naively blames the Chinese. Caught in the middle is a drug addicted prostitute named Monica, a slave to the yakuza for her father’s past mishaps, who is kept locked away in a small apartment overseen by a yakuza lackeys, romantic couple Yasu and Julie, that also use the apartment to control drug flow. When Kase plan to raid the apartment and steal the drugs goes array, Yasu winds up dead and Monica escapes, running into Leo who has nothing left to live for except to protect Monica. A distraught-induced psychotic Julie, the deadly yakuza, the Chinese Mafia, a double-crosser and his crooked cop partner, a delusional girl of the night, and one apathetic boxer clash in a single night’s ultraviolet web.

Extreme Japanese auteur Takashi Miike fastens a lively tongue-and-cheek and supremely savage crime thriller in his latest mad yakuza film, amiably entitled, “First Love,” also known “Hatsukoi.” “First Love” is anything but friendly and pleasant as the street of Tokyo run red with blood or else the 2019 released film wouldn’t be a Takashi Miike trademark special. Penned by Miike’s long time collaborator, Masa Nakamura, the filmmaker’s affection for horror eludes this title that hones more toward the unpleasantries of clan betrayals, snarky criminal shenanigans, and, of course, a flavor for mega violence that become a maelstrom angrily surrounding a demoralized boxer and the victimized forced-into-prostitution young woman he aims to selfishly protect while in his mental clout regarding his mortality. Produced by OLM, Inc production company headquartered in Tokyo takes a step away from manga with “First Love,” a step that has been evolved over the last few years, but may have contributed to some of the illustrated content that seemingly has infiltrated into the third act with an initial explosiveness in the beginning portions of a car chase scene.

Cast as Leo Katsuragi, the boxer, is Masataka Kubota, a familiar face from another Miike film, “13 Assassins,” and most recently from the heavily Japanese cultured specter feature, ‘Tokyo Ghoul.” Leo’s lighter weight physique and fresh face has Masataka look the part of a promising fighter whose positioned for fame early into the story, but that framework comes to a screeching halt when he’s destined for a tumorous death. When Leo is coupled with Monica, a drug addicted forced in prostitution plagued with crippling hallucinations side effects, the repressed Leo finds himself sheltering someone with more burden on her shoulders than upon his own. Monica’s portrayed by Sakurako Konishi in what’s essentially her first major role and being paired as a scared, lonely, and crazy character coupled with a stoic vet in Masataka makes for an easy dynamic. Shôta Sometani’s chin deep in trouble Kase goes without saying that Sometani’s unfathomable range and charisma adds an aloof comic relief along with Kase’s dishonest detective slipped covertly into by “Ichi the Killer” himself, Nao Ohmori and pursued by a retribution spirited girlfriend, Julie, of her slain yakuza boyfriend; a role spearheaded with such energy and gusto from Rebecca Eri Rabone, credited solely as Becky, who has a slight Cynthia Rothrock vibe. “First Love” is no slave to boorish performances from Takahiro Miura (“Shin Godzilla”), Cheng-Kuo Yen, Sansei Shiomi, and Mami Fujioka.

“First Love” emerges as a smart and fun battle royal of decimation in the anarchist criterion. One would think a prolific director such as Takashi Miike would wear out his welcome with tired and stale filmic bread, crumbling with every soggy rinse and repeat. That’s not the case with “First Love.” Why is it entitled “First Love” anyway, you ask? The question’s open for viewer interpretation, much like most of Miike’s suggestive elegant style, and presents an illuminating unexplored journey in itself. A ventured guess would be that Leo and Monica have never experienced the feeling previously in either content or a labored life with Leo being an impassive athlete and Monica an escort since high school. The corollary of bumping into each other by chance results in the unorthodox dismantling of two rival criminal organizations, baring then an age-old theme of love conquers all and renders the mystics of destiny fueled from from within all the way easter egging sexual taboos inside his brazen, sometimes insane, transgression storyline. Either way, Takashi Miike helms a tremendous brutal-comedy that brands him as being the Martin Scorsese of Japanese filmmaking.

Blades, guns, and a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, “First Love” has mainstream aptitude with a carnage driven crime syndicate finesse and is now available on a two-disc, dual format Blu-ray and DVD release from Well Go USA Entertainment. Encased in a slipcover, the not rated feature is presented in full HD, 1080p, and in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. This review will focus it’s review on the Blu-ray quality. Much of Miike’s style is neo-noir basking in very grounded color palette that’s occasionally adorned by the neon brights of Tokyo. Often does Miike composite in his work and “First Love” is no exception with a brief manga nearly a rallying ending; the illustration is super sharp, a visual pop of blue and white, and, obviously, clean. Ultra-fine details add to a prizing fatalism and even the tasteful gore, on a granular level, passes the screen test. Some scenes appear sleeker than others inside a dark scope coded with darker shades of green and yellow, but the overall result smothers any kind of inconsistency. The Japanese and Chinese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks savor every last audiophile morsel. The clear dialogue renders nicely, big effects and action sequences offer a wide range, and the depth covers more than enough ground surrounded by hustle and bustle of the urban element. Kôji Endô’s enchantingly lethal score will immerse you right into the mix and provide a slick culture twist upon classical composition. The English subtitles are well paced and mostly accurate as I did catch one grammatical mistake. Incased inside a slight embossed titled cardboard slipcover, the release also offers a teaser and a theatrical run trailer. Cynical on the surface and romantically submersible to the core, “First Love” is a Takashi Miike instant favorite of amusing antagonism and shorn almost completely of genial garments.

Own Takashi Miike’s “First Love” on Blu-ray+DVD combo set!

Evil Gets a 4K Digital Transfer! “Ichi the Killer” review!


Three hundred million yen and Yakuza boss Anjo have disappeared without a trace. Anjo’s most deadly and most sadomasochistic enforcer, Kakihara, and the rest of the Yakuza gang embark on a torture-riddle search and rescue to find their missing boss. After unrightfully torturing and mutilating a rival Yakuza leader, Kakihara learns through a trail of mayhem of a fierce killer known as Ichi and after being exposed to Ichi’s grisly handiwork first hand, a usually stagnant and emotionally detached Kakihara becomes stimulated and eager to go one-on-one with a formidable foe like Ichi, who could possibly bestow upon him gratifying pain to feel something other than emptiness. Ichi’s eviscerating destruction isn’t totally in his control as the sexually-repressed and candidly disturbed overall nice guy is being coerce through psycho-manipulation by Jijii, an old man seeking retribution against the Anjo gang. With blades projecting from his shoes and his skill at martial arts, the timid Ichi becomes the ultimate killing machine when brainwashing takes him over the edge into a hysterical fit of rage that leaves guts and blood to paint the floor and walls.

Perhaps director Takashi Miike’s finest work, the 2001 Japanese blood bath “Ichi the Killer” is a must own for any film aficionado teetering on the razor wire between crime dramas and gory action flicks that might be on the viewing docket for then night, but certainly a must-see for all film lovers at some point in time. Miike’s stone cold, chaotic style of filmmaking embraces the story’s unwavering havoc that blisters with ruthless brutality between two very different, black and white characters with one thing in common – being good a killing. Based off the manga penned by Hideo Yamamoto and from the adapted screenplay by Sakichi Sato, Miike crafts the most disturbing elements of mankind and brings them to the forefront in a simple story of revenge. On one side, there’s Kakihara, a scarred-face Yakuza enforcer with a very rich violent history to the extent that he’s become numb to his own existence in the world and then there’s Ichi, a reclusive cry-baby stemmed from being mentally fed graphic bulling stories of battery and rape in a memory built upon languishing lies. Vastly different, well-written characters opposite the spectrum and both are good at dealing death, but one aims to dish it out and the other yearns to stop his carnage, and that compelling core element is immensely fluffed by extreme violence in a way that only Miike can deliver it.

But for a film like “Ichi the Killer,” Takashi Miike had a little (hint of sarcasm) help from his gifted cast in making this project a cult success. Before this actor was Hogun in the Marvel Universe’s “Thor” franchise, Tadanobu Asano shaped up the psychotic enforcer Kakihara and the usually dark featured Asano reconfigures his appearance to put life into the character who sports blonde, wavy hair, a frothy complexion, and small hoop piercings at the corners of his lips to keep the slits from opening to expose the entire gaping jaw which is used as a defensive weapon. Opposite Asano is the Tokyo born Nao Ohmori who perfectly subjects himself to being a wimpy human shell with an explosive inner anger. The two men have only a small amount of screen time together and that requires them to build their character’s standout personalities. Complimenting their performances is an amazing support cast, including Shin’ya Tsukamoto (“Marebito”), Miss Singapore 1994 Paulyn Sun, Hiroyuki Tanaka, and Suzuki Matsuo.

“Ichi the Killer” is simply magnificent where it vulgarly touches upon various themes, mostly human flawed that also destines opposing counterparts together. Aside from the graphically realistic violence, Miike’s film hits upon other attributable tangents, among them some are just being plain gross, but these aspects are undeniably important to the story. Themes ranging from sexual suppression and female inferiority to sadomasochism and severe obsession top the charts in a heap of motifs throughout. Accessorial blood and other bodily fluids are extravagantly portrayed, spraying across the room with jettison entrails or dripping from potted plants to a cloudy puddle below during in a voyeuristic rape scene, to get the clear sense of an adult manga inspired chockablock exploitation and crime drama.

Well Go USA presents “Ichi the Killer” on Blu-ray in a newly restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut; a task undertaken by Emperor Motion Pictures in 2017. Presented in a widescreen 16:9 (1.85:1) aspect ratio, the film starts off with a blurb about the history of this particular digital restoration and transfer that asserts director Takashi Miike’s approval for release. Well Go USA’s rendering resembles much of the previous Tokyo Shock Blu-ray with subtle differences such as a slightly more aqua tint to the picture coloring and also much like it’s other Region A Blu-ray counterpart, a bit of noise is present in the restoration, but still the better detail of the two. The Japanese stereo 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio surround sound has an bombastic soundtrack, but dialogue remains on the softer side where relying on the English subtitles is crucial. No issues with timing or accuracy in the subtitles. Surprisingly, the only extras included on the Well Go USA release is an audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and manga artist Hideo Yamamoto, still gallery, and the trailer that undercuts this releases’ purchasing value and might as well hunt down for the out of print Media Blasters Blu-ray, if extras are a must. Even still, “Ichi the Killer” has been resurrected in North America again and the release technically sustains growth amongst the mass of releases around the world. The lack of special features is disconcerting, especially being a restored director’s cut, but “Ichi the Killer” can stand on it’s own as a gracefully sanguinary masterpiece. Look for the Blu-ray to hit retail and online shelves March 20th!

Get Ichi the Killer today on Blu-ray!

]

Sion Sono’s Brings the Evil Back to the Japanese School Girls! “Tag” review!


Life is seemingly pleasant and happy-go-lucky when two fully loaded coach buses of high school girls travel down a forestry passageway toward a lakeside hotel until sudden violence and gore turns Mitsuko’s classmates into minced meat. Overcome with shock and fear, Mitsuko escapes the terror only to find herself in another horrifying scenario. The vicious cycle continues as Mitsuko is thrusted into one chaotic, blood-splattering world after another, quickly losing her identity with each threshold crossing, and with no clue of what’s going on and how she got into this limbo of hell, Mitsuko must stay alive and unearth the truth behind the surreality of her being.

Nothing is more terrifying than being in a heart-pounding situation and not having one single clue why bodies are being sliced in half like corks popping violent out of champagne bottles, why childhood mentors break their professional oath and slaughter students with a ferocity of a mini-gun, or why being chased by a tuxedo-decked out groom with a gnarly pig head is in tow ready to drop kick anything, or anybody, standing in the way. Writer-director Sion Sono manifests that very chaos entrenched world in the 2015 action-horror “Tag” and, once again, the “Suicide Girls” director puts Japanese school girls back into the harrowed ways of gore and death over salted with an existential surrealism based off a novel by Yûsuke Yamada entitled Riaru Onigokko aka Real Game of Tag. Yamada’s story is followed more closely to that of Issei Shibata’s 2008 “The Chasing World” that involves a Government influence and parallel universes, “Tag” serves more as an abstract remake that Sono masters a soft touch of irrational poetry bathed in gore and strung with chaos rectified with a tremendously talented cast of young actresses.

Actresses such as the Vienna born Reina Triendl. Being Japanese doppelgänger to Mary Elizabeth Windstead with soft round eyes and the picturesque of youthfulness, Triendl transcends tranquility and innocence when portraying a content Mitsuko in the midst of many of her classmates boorishly bearing the typical, low-level adolescent anarchy. When Mitsuko’s thrusted into phantasmagorical mayhem, Triendl steps right there with her discombobulated character in an undried eye panicky frenzy whose character then spawns into two other fleshy vessels, a pair of recognizable names of J-Pop fandom in Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano, when Mitsuko enters another zone in her fictional world. Though different in all aspects of their appearance and in name – Misuko, Kieko, and Izumi, the three women share the same existence and fathom a unbroken entity of character that hacks her way through the brutal truth. The remaining cast, Yuki Sakurai, Aki Hiraoka, and Ami Tomite, sport the high school miniskirt wardrobe and garnish a bubbly-violent J-horror persona very unique to the genre.

“Tag” is a plethora of metaphors and undertones likely to be over-the-head of most audiences, but if paying close enough attention and understanding the subtle rhythmic pattern of Sono’s direction, the gore and the fantastic venues are all part of an intrinsic, underlining message of feminism and sex inequality that’s built inside a “man”-made, video game structure thirty years into the future. Sono points out, in the most graphic and absurd method, how men treat women like objects or playthings. There’s also a message regarding predestination with white pillow feathers being the metaphor for fate and being spontaneous is the key to break that predestined logic and all of this corresponds to how Misuko, the main character, needs to break the mold, to choose her path, and to remember her past in order to free all the women trapped inside a male-driven purgatory of pain, punishment, and pleasure. Supporting Sono’s ability to disclose an epic survival-fantasy horror in such a way comes from multiple production companies, one of them being NBCUniversal Entertainment, providing the cash flow that allows Sono to flesh out the gore, to acquire massive amount of extras, and to scout out and obtain various locations.

Eureka Entertainment presents a dual format, Blu-ray-DVD combo, of “Tag” for the first time in the United Kingdom. However, the disc provided was a feature-only screener and a critique on the video, audio, and bonus material will not be conducted, but in itself, “Tag” is a full throttle encephalon teaser warranting a need for no supplementary content aside from conventional curiosity into what makes Sono’s “Tag” tick. When all pistons are firing, from the visual effects of Satoshi Akabane to “The Walking Dead” familiar score, “Tag” is no child’s game with a heavily symbolic, touch-and-go and bloodied pro-feministic essence that would serve as an abrupt and acute wakeup call to all the Harvey Weinsteins in the world that women are not to be simply playthings and that their gender destiny lies solely with them despite the misconstrued male manipulation.

Get Jacked! Get Evil! “Bloody Muscle Body Builder In Hell” review!


Living free from job responsibilities and able to workout whenever he wants, body builder Naoto is living the high life. His daily workout is interrupted by his former photojournalist ex-girlfriend in search of the next haunted house for her latest article and she calls Naoto to inquire his father’s old, creepy home that’s now in Naoto’s possession. Accompanied by a professional psychic, the three conduct a house call to get a presence reading and take pictures of the rundown, abandoned home. They find themselves trapped inside with Naoto’s father’s darkest secret malevolently toying with them and holding them hostage with her cursed power bestowed upon her death, 30 years ago, forsaken to her by the hands of Naoto’s fahter.

In 2014, first time director Shinichi Fukazawa’s endearment for Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” has encouraged the filmmaker to tribute a film that has dubbed “The Japanese Evil Dead.” With all the depictions of Raimi’s film, including from a shotgun, an axe, and even a severed sarcastic-spewing mangled demon head, “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” views just as good as the sounds. Taking his film to the next level by going back in a time warp, Fukazawa de-amplifies the image quality with a lo-fi flare that adds chaotic charm bathed in retro-VHS vision as every desaturated hue and blanket of coarse grain is a step back in time. Fukazawa implements his own sturdy brand of macabre to branch his version of “The Evil Dead.” For instance, Fukazawa removes the Necronomicon, the book of the dead, all together. Instead, the director doesn’t forth put an outright explanation behind the cause of the cursed’s murderous revenge other than holding a jealous grudge and the lack of motivation is okay because “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” is a modern day video nasty.

Shinichi Fukazawa, himself, stars as Naoto, suffering every ding, boink, and bop as our hapless hero that’s aims to strike similarities to Ashley “Ash” Williams and his gift of being the king of Three Stooges foolishness. Fukazawa plays a more conservative character in comparison, but does manage spit out memorable one-liners made genre famous by Bruce Campbell, like “groovy.” THe lead actress, Asako Nosaka, holds her own as a lovely damsel in distress who can double on a dime as a Mike Tyson speed bag puncher. The trapped pair make a convincingly distressed protagonists, especially in such a small Japanese home that’s the equivalent to a cabin in the woods. Last on the roster is Masaaki Kai filling in the psychic’s shoes and conjures an performance that’s could fit right in with the Kandarian Cheryl, Scott, Linda, and Shelley demons.

“Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” is a 2014 effects driven, blood hungry roller coaster of pure mayhem entertainment. The ingeniously creative special effects, on a shoe string budget, are made of eye-popping, skull-crushing, and limb-parting goodness that every horror fan can appreciate and love. The lo-fi cinema and melancholy horror fixes to not impress those who have a taste for the CGI eye candy and won’t knock your socks off with the latest and greatest technological, animated advances in effects that attempts to mock real life, but accomplishes the opposite in the fabricated grindhouse reel with overexposures and rough edges that are more fitting for the subject matter. Fukazawa does embody Raimi’s creative editing and angle vision that makes Fukazawa’s film feel very attached to “The Evil Dead” franchise.

The well-meshed video nasty mingles Japanese culture with a loving tribute to Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” franchise and kicks off Shinichi Fukazawa’s most interesting silver screen career. Terracotta Distribution’s “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” is a tightly packed 62-minute joyride with squirrelly, demented demons with heavy emphasis on the blood and the gore. Image quality is poor and that’s a good thing! The low-tech fullscreen and unrefined quality are a tall-tell sign of a SOV gruesomeness surrounded by a fuzzy Japanese dual channel stereo. Extras includes a Graham Humprey time lapsed video of him creating his DVD artwork, a behind-the-scenes gallery, a dismemberment of scene clips, and Japanese and Terracotta trailers bringing up the tail end. “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell” packs a punch, delivers the death, and gorges itself in the gore in this UK DVD from Terracotta Distribution! and is a lovely blend of comedy, horror, and praise that’s powerfully short and sweet from a freshman director who aims to make a statement while giving appreciation in his own culturally established way.

Mysterious Evil Destroys Small Village Families. “The Wailing” review!

screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-16-32-pmIn a small South Korean village, tight-knit families practically know one another in the quaint middle-class community. When mysteriously deadly destructions from inside local families and strange stories of animal carcass devouring creatures in the woods surface, local police sergeant Jong-Goo begins an investigation to connect a pattern of violence and superstition and at the center of it all is a suspicious and reclusive Japanese traveller. Bound by the law and an overall lack of courage, Jong-Goo proceeds to investigate with extreme caution, but when his young daughter, Hyo-jin, becomes subjected to the same symptoms that overtook destroyed families from within, the desperate father sets aside rules and regulations and uses threats and force when visiting the Japanese Stranger, whose rumored to be an evil spirit that’s plaguing the small village with terror and death.
screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-16-30-pm
By far, “The Wailing” sets the precedent on folklore horror. Acclaimed writer-director Hong-jin Na lands a harrowingly ambitious, well-constructed film right into the lap of horror fans with “The Wailing,” known also as “Goksung” in the film’s country of South Korea. South Korean filmmakers have once reestablished proof that foreign films can be as masterful, as bold, and as elegant when compared to any other film from major studio productions. Hollywood has started to come around by remaking one of South Korea’s most notorious films, the vengeful thriller “Oldboy,” and seeks to remake recent international hits in “Train to Buscan” and “I Saw the Devil.” Lets also touch upon that top Hollywood actors are beginning to branch out to South Korean films. “Captain America” star Chris Evans had obtained a starring role in Joon-ho Bong’s “Snowpiercer” alongside co-stars Ed Harris and the late British actor Sir John Hurt. “The Wailing” will reach similar popularity being one of 2016’s most original horror movies and one of the more unique visions of terror to clutch the heart of my all time favorite’s list.
screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-17-18-pm
Do-won Kwak stars as Sergeant Jong-Goo, a officer who avoids trouble at all costs and has no motivation to be on time for anything. Kwak, basically, plays the fool character, comically going through the routine of investigating brutal murders complete with stabbings, burnings, and hangings despite his Captain’s constant chastising and seizes every opportunity to act dumb and look stupid, but once the story starts to focus “The Wailing” as nothing more than an offbeat black-comedy, Hong-ja Na devilishly about-faces with a severe turn of events that’s a mixed bag of genres. Kwak no longer plays the lead role of comic relief; instead, a more self-confident Sergeant Jong-Goo takes control of the investigation as the deeper he finds himself involved in the dark plague that’s ravaging his village. He hunts down the Japanese Stranger, the debut South Korean film for long time Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (“Kill Bill,” Takashi Miike’s “Audition”) with a zen like aurora that’s enormously haunting to behold and captivating when his presence is lurking amongst the scene. Though Kunimura’s demeanor contrasts with other actors, he’s very much in tune with the dynamic, but it’s the maniacally, foul-mouth ravings of Hyo-jin, played by Hwan-hee Kim, that stand out and are the most distraught during her possession state that could give “The Exorcist” a run for it’s money and is a visceral vice grip to the soul that has to be experienced. Woo-hee Chun and Jung-min Hwang round out the cast in their respective and memorable co-starring roles as a peculiar no named woman and a flashy shaman.
screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-23-19-pm
“The Wailing” incorporates various folklore stemming from cultures all over the world including the Koreas, China, Japan, and even from China’s bordering neighbor Nepal and meshes them with religious practices of Buddhism to even the far corners that the Catholic faith possesses. The luxuriant green South Korean mountain backdrop sets an isolated, ominous cloud over a beautiful and serene archaic village, an awe-inspiring juxtaposition created by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong that coincides with the complete dread piercing through the heart of the story; a perspective vastly opposite to Hong’s works in the previously mentioned “Snowpiercer” that’s set in the tight confines of a class dividing bullet train. “The Wailing” bundles together mythos with visionary concepts and landscapes in an epic mystery-thriller that’s unforgettable; it will cling to you, like a evil-dwelling spirit, well after the film is over.
screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-18-18-pm
20th Century Fox, in association with Ivanhoe Pictures and Side Mirror, produce Hong-jin Na’s top horror contender “The Wailing” with Well Go USA and Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment distributing on DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I was provided with a DVD-R screener and can’t specifically comment on specifications and image or audio quality. Accompanying the screener were two bonus features: a behind-the-scenes featurette and the beginning tale of “The Wailing” featurette. Both were fairly informative that gives insight on Hong-jin Na’s mindset and how the director’s ambitious story in a malignant tale of comedy, horror, and mysterious involving demons, shamans, and, quite possibly, the devil himself. “The Wailing” significantly captivates, sucking you into the darkness with an uncanny amount of pull with a story too terrifyingly original to avert and too thick with vigorous characters in a plot twist too harrowing to forget.