EVIL Does a Little Bathhouse Wet Work in “Melancholic” reviewed! (Third Window Films / Blu-ray Screener)

On nights when a humble Japanese bathhouse is supposed to be closed for business, the lights remain illuminated, gleaming off the crimson covered ceramic tiles of Mr. Azuma’s bathhouse floors as body’s soak in a pool of blood.  The proprietor, Mr. Azuma, is in severe financial debt to Yakuza boss Tanaka who turns his meager business into a nightly slaughter house to dispose of Yakuza opposition or those just on the syndicate’s bad side.  When Tokyo University graduate, Kazuhiko, applies for a job as an attendant to see a girl who regular attends the bathhouse, the reserved model employee becomes enthralled with the disposing and cleaning up of the corpses, working alongside a couple of professional hitmen, Matsumoto and Kodero, but when the job he’s so passionate about requires him to be more hands on with the assassination assignments and the endless pressure from the Yakuza bares down on his colleagues and friends, Kazuhiko’s radical plan to eradicate the woes of his newfangled position just might mean his very life. 

Seiji Tanaka’s self-esteem building and identity attaining crime drama, “Melancholic,” might not reside as absolute horror, but any film involving the Japanese Yakuza is an unpredictable, Machiavellian expo worthy of every second.  Originally titled in Japan as “Merankorikku” or “メランコリック,” writer-director Tanaka retains a bloody disposition of the historically violently depicted Yakuza-storied narrative, but is asymmetrical with a converging love affair, complementary conflicting the dark and light with clarity of the centric character’s unintended double life into the criminal enterprise of cleaning a bloody bathhouse.  Based off Seiji Tanaka’s short film of the same title, “Melancholic” mops up as an immersive black dramedy from Seiji Tanaka as the filmmaker’s first credited feature film produced by One Goose production in association with Uplink and JGMP.

The story concentrates most of the effort around Kazuhiko, a graduate of the prestigious Tokyo University who doesn’t have a good job and lives with his pampering parents, fitted by Yoji Minagawa as a social misfit living on the outskirts of the Japanese mantra of diligence and integrity.  Minagawa bores out Kazuhiko’s diffidence, chocking up his damp disposition to the indecisions toward his future, that forces other characters to influence his choices, such a former high school classmate in Yuri with an effervescent performance by “Tag’s” (“Riaru onigokko”) Mebuki Yoshida.  Yuri’s infectious affection for Kazuhiko and her regular attendance at the bathhouse encourages Kazuhiko to apply and become hired for a cleaning attendant position alongside a blonde, and undereducated in comparison, counterpart in Matsumoto (Yoshitomo Isozaki), but to Kazuhiko’s surprise, his overqualified ego is shattered when he discovers that the bathhouse is a Yakuza place of execution and those all around him are more experienced in that trade, detonating a plume of black comedy, work place haughtiness that Kazuhiko has to balance with his personal relationship growing with Yuri.  Most of the exchanges are straight forward and culturally inflection heavy, especially when dire moments rear their heads, but some more compassionate and delicate scenes rouse through the overt inflections with Minagawa and Yoshida at the helm of their blossoming onscreen romance, adding to the stark contrast to the opposing narrative. Stefanie Arianne, Makoto Hada, Yasuyuki Hamaya, Takanori Kamachi, Hiroko Shinkai, Masanobu Yada, Keiji Yamashita, and Yuti Okubo fill out “Melancholic’s” cast.

“Melancholic” is a rather odd title integrated into the briefly pensive struggles of Kazuhiko to an intrinsic network of assassination gunplay and backstabbing knavery, offering little profound sadness and despair and more shrewd hostility when those in charge ask for an inch but take a mile out of the personnel pool. For a Yakuza film, Tanaka’s bath and butcher story has barely a budget to entertain technical action sequences in tight spaces, but the action is kept taut and intense and despite the lack of a Yakuza presence, with only one single boss representing an entire faction, the transposing of Kazuhiko’s personal and professional stations washes away much of budgetary concerns down the drainpipe as an irresistible curiosity to see how our hero softly stumbles through a sudden confluence of the two repelling paths will play out. Most audiences will overlook the comedy for a countless reasons as “Melancholic” up plays into the satirical rigors of the Japanese sullen humor. The fact that that the subject matter is also about mercilessly murder people in a bathhouse will undoubtedly pigeonhole the film with pre-labeled genre. Tanaka slips in gallons of subdued irony ripe for the complex circumstances hazardous to all bathhouse employees and their pryingly oppressive management.

The award winning Japanese film (aggregated wins from multiple Eastern Asian film festivals) “Melancholic” arrives onto a dual format DVD/Blu-ray from UK distributor Third Window Films, a loyal provider of extreme Asian cult and horror. Since the Blu-ray was a screener, the A/V aspects won’t be reviewed in it’s entirety and the specifications weren’t provided with the screener. Ryô Takahashi’s cinematic vision brings out the beauty in simplification without being ostentatious with camera angles or relying heavily on tint boxes; yet, the blend of steady cam and handheld tilts to the one side with the jitteriness of the handheld seizing the stage. Bonus features were included on the screener, including a behind-the-scenes of a documentary-style shot look at moments before, during, and after takes, a Q and A panel with the cast and crew, and the “Melancholic” short film. Seiji Tanaka’s breakthrough bloodbath, “Melancholic,” sounds more despondent than the dismal thought of a cold shower on a freezing day, but the heated ferocity rite into adulthood keeps this Japanese dramedy warm with tension and cozy with vortex humor.v

Purchase “Melancholic” on Blu-ray / DVD!

Dark. Alone. Evil, Deformed Children. “Confined” review!

Screen shot 2016-02-04 at 6.50.26 PM
Julia Streak begins a nightshift security position at a grand and abandoned apartment complex in the city. The job is her last chance to prove that she can take care of her daughter, Clara, after a bout with a psychotic illness. Paired up with Cooper, a wheelchair bound antisocial security guard whose been overseeing the estate since the beginning, Streak and Cooper begin their first shift on the job together in the dark and elaborately minacious building. When Streak discovers and opens up a mysterious locked door that leads to a subterranean maze of disheveled and vacant rooms void of security cameras. What Streak discovers will force her to battle with her own inner demons and struggle with a maddening presence that truly terrifies her.

“Confined,” the UK title of the American 2015 film, “The Abandoned,” is the debut directorial of NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate Eytan Rockaway and penned by Ido Fluk. The cast is blend of well-known veteran actors with lesser-knowns who’ve been in the industry for a number of years. “The Lost Boys” and “Sleepers” star Jason Patric co-headlines as the crippled Cooper and he stars alongside Louisa Krause, an actress observed more frequently in independent features, as the disturbed and desperate Julia Streak. Then there is low and raspy voiced actor Mark Margolis, better known for his Emmy nominated role in “Breaking Bad” or, as I remember him from, as the merciless landlord from the first “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” film. Margolis dons an excellent creepy homeless man looking for a place to crash during a deathly cold and rainy night. To round out the cast is the authoritative appearance of Ezra Knight, whose seen more video game and television show work than his share of feature films.
Screen shot 2016-02-04 at 6.54.20 PM
Rockaway’s directing style works mediocrely with the story’s threatening nature, establishing a catacomb-like surrounding in Julia Streak’s discovery during “Confined’s” second act, but compared to the setup of characters in the beginning, Rockaway has an inconsistency. Rockaway flourishes better with his use of angles, his ability to frame medium and close up shots, and his eye for soft color tones, that when all combined, setup for an effective foreboding mood. The second act takes a on another role that diminishes the first act’s sheer mysticism and menacing structures of the Julia character and her motivation for this newfound position as a security guard. Even though the darker scenes add fear to any horror movie, the darker scenes in this particular semi-supernatural feature are a technical mishap that become more of a hinderance to the story than being a horrific bonus.
Screen shot 2016-02-04 at 7.08.34 PM
The story doesn’t exactly come through in the end either. The Fluk and Rockaway rendition of one woman’s disturbing breakthrough attempts to enter the challenging and conflicted mind of a person dealing with real and hidden demons, but falls annoyingly flat, not really delivering that “ah ha” moment or twist at the end. An experiment wash came over the last fifteen minutes or so when Cooper and Streak are in the dreadful basement, fighting off the presence in the old upscale apartment complex. The U.S. title, “The Abandoned,” fits more appropriately to the story than does “Confined” as abandoned is a double, if not triple, entrendre with the apartment building being abandoned, the abandonment with the basement presences, and with Streaks own issue with abandonment. Confined is far from being a terrible title, as I do believe confined has it’s own underlining meanings in the film, but just not as provocative.

By far, Jason Patric’s character, Cooper, adds a little liveliness to the feature. I’ve never experienced Patric’s ability to be on the level of cold and sarcastic. Truly a treat up until the story’s momentum changes that focuses more on Streak. Louisa Krause didn’t transcend enough belief in Julia Streak. I thought her performance was overly stale and her character was also poorly written to the point where I thought Julia Streak should have characterized as a 13-year-old girl. Streak is suppose to be a strong, feminine character and that does come through at certain points, even if those points during the film seem pointless, unnatural, and meaningless. Yet, Streak, for a kick boxer and as a mother fighting for her daughter, is fairly weak, whimpering at times during peril. She also doesn’t follow the job’s guidelines, showing that the job she needs to be there for her daughter is not necessarily important enough to keep.
Screen shot 2016-02-04 at 7.55.07 PM
“Confined” is a release of the UK distributed 101 Films and was produced by the rather young production company C Plus Pictures here in the States. 101 Films graciously provided me with an online screener, so I can’t comment on the bonus features or the audio or video quality. “Confined” has its own demons in the form of plot holes and some unfinished revisions, but has more life by means of the more experienced actors in Patric and Margolis. Check out the atmospheric “Confined” for yourself and maybe your interpretation would be more open minded than my confined outlook that abandoned all hope near the finale for this feature.