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Fantasia “crowd-pleasers” are all about the formula and ATTACK THE BLOCK revitalizes the alien invasion narrative admirably (see “Fantasia Day 2, Part One”). DEADBALL, on the other hand, is a prime example of a well-worn recipe that, while offering a few thrills, Fantasia audiences have inevitably been growing tired of.
Ever since Yoshihiro Nishimura’s TOKYO GORE POLICE rocked our socks off in 2008 (selling out two screenings and taking home the Gold Prize for Best Asian Film) the so-called and loosely defined “tokyo gore” cycle, pioneered by Yamaguchi’s BATTLEFIED BASEBALL (2003) and the quite excellent MEATBALL MACHINE (2005), has been extremely popular (inevitably programmed at fests like Fantasia and NYAFF). Cemented into a subgenre by films such as THE MACHINE GIRL (2008), ROBO-GEISHA (2009) and VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL (2009) then given a home in 2010 at Sushi Typhoon, the directors (Nishimura, Iguchi, Yamaguchi, etc.) have been extremely prolific in order to fulfill the demand and as a result, the quality of these films – in works that are already more concerned with excesses of gore and non-stop action than anything else – has been very hit-or-miss.
Yudai Yamaguchi & Tak Sakaguchi’s YAKUZA WEAPON, also playing this year’s Fantasia, was a deplorable low-budget mess that had nothing much to offer aside from Tak Sakaguchi’s fearless martial arts moves, which are given a 4-minute spotlight in the only impressive sequence in the film; an uninterrupted, video game-style tracking shot of Sakaguchi taking down hordes of opponents (which also brings to mind the segment he directed in last year’s anthology MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD). Based on Ken Ishikawa’s manga series of the same name, YAKUZA WEAPON aims to entertain, but fails to provide an engaging narrative to frame the madness one enjoys these films for. Due to an evident lack of budget – these films have never looked so hastily made – and over-reliance on CGI, the film is one of the least aesthetically pleasing of the bunch, even despite Nishimura’s amazing practical FX work. Die-hard fans will enjoy the martial arts and gore, but as a witness of the progression of this cycle, YAKUZA WEAPON strikes me as both extremely disappointing and inevitable. The film’s insane conclusion will bring Takashi Miike’s DEAD OR ALIVE to mind, which achieved similar feats of excess more than 10 years ago.
Having already seen YAKUZA WEAPON, I was expecting the worst out of DEADBALL but luckily, was slightly mislead. Infinitely funnier and inventive than its big gun counterpart, the film finds lead Tak Sakaguchi (co-director and hero of YAKUZA WEAPON) in the comedic role of the super-powered baseball prodigy and juvenile delinquent Jubeh Yakyu. After accidentally causing the death of his father with his explosive fireball pitch, Jubeh has sworn never to play ball again. When sent to the Pterodactyl Juvenile Reformatory, however, he’s coerced into joining the baseball team and consequently battles legions of enemies that includes a team of scantily clad women, Nazis and robots. Like many films of the same vein, DEABALL is an action-packed male fantasy, filled with questionable protagonists and political incorrectness regarding issues of race and gender politics that are unfortunately characteristic of such Japanese gory gag buffets. Enjoyable for much of its running time thanks to increased production value, occasionally effective gags (the appearing cigarette comes to mind) and inventive situations (as directed by Yudai Yamaguchi and brought to vivid, bloody life by Nishimura and his cohort of SFX artisans), DEADBALL eventually exhausts with its complete lack of narrative (what’s the point, you might ask?) and nonsensically tacked-on ending, which turns a streamlined beat-them-all into a somewhat racist and homophobic mess, adding 20 painful minutes to what needed to be short, sweet and effective.
An audience that two years ago would’ve enthusiastically sold out the theater, complacently sat there, responding to some kills but visibly accustomed and obviously not terribly impressed by most. The genre certainly has its die-hard fans but I doubt I’m alone in saying I’d much rather see another TOKYO GORE POLICE – which, despite its dubious contents, combined inventive excessive gore, with actual ideas and a relentless desire to shock and subvert – than the exhausted repetition of a DEADBALL or the botched execution of a YAKUZA WEAPON.
HELLDRIVER, Nishimura’s first solo effort since TOKYO GORE POLICE and Noboru Iguchi’s KARATE-ROBO ZARBOGAR will also be playing in the upcoming weeks and hopefully, ups the ante. ZARBOGAR looks like an enjoyable and playful homage to 1970’s super-sentai, which, like last year’s ALIEN VS. NINJA could prove to be a lot of fun. HELLDRIVER reunites writer/director/SFX master Nishimura with splatter queen Eihi Shiina (AUDITION), so hopefully the zombie narrative (which was initially envisioned as the sequel of TOKYO GORE POLICE) does not disappoint.
Let’s also remind ourselves that Sushi Typhoon is bringing Sion Sono’s COLD FISH to our shores, so to pigeonhole the distribution house to the cycle above would be unfair.
Next up: Aussi shark thriller THE REEF, Robin Hardy’s classic THE WICKER MAN and hotly anticipated omnibus THE THEATRE BIZARRE.
FANGO AT FANTASIA
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