Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dope Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura (part 2)

Yoshihiro Nishimura, one of the young leaders of this nascent Japanese nouveau body-horror movement (which includes frequent collaborator Noboru Iguchi and action/stunt wizard Tak Sakaguchi), has an extensive background in SFX and SFX makeup. This is clear to anyone who saw Tokyo Gore Police with me at the IFC Center that night, in its world premiere at NYAFF 2008. But when I revisited my catalogue of J-Horror (both the "yurei" stuff like Juon by Takashi Shimizu and the deviant family-drama oeuvre of Sion Sono), I realized Nishimura's bloody thumbprint was everywhere. He started his own SFX company, 西村映造/Nishimura Eizo (shortened to Nishi-Zo, and w/ the wildly effective logo of a blood-drenched "西", the 1st character in Nishimura's last name, which I've seen as a t-shirt and I WANT ONE), back in 2005, w/ the tagline "special molding, special makeup, gore effect". That's his specialty.
For instance: the tidal wave of blood a few minutes into Sono's controversial 自殺サークル/Suicide Club — the notorious, cringe-inducing 'money shot' — plus the skin-carvings and whatnot, much of that is thanks to Nishimura. He collaborated in Sono's loose followup, the (in my opinion superior) 紀子の食卓/Noriko's Dinner Table and other Sono films (the darkly comedic エクステ/Exte w/ Chiaki Kuriyama, had a definite Nishimura undercurrent), and even the mostly restrained violence in Sono's opus 愛のむきだし/Love Exposure involves Nishimura's blood-letting. Of note: none of these aforementioned titles have that cherry sno-cone blood and gore I detailed in my previous post on Nishimura. Sono's style (even in Exte) is far more realistic, and Nishimura can adjust as appropriate.

Throw him together w/ the irreverence of Iguchi and Sakaguchi, though, and he shines. I caught Iguchi's 片腕マシンガール/The Machine Girl straight after seeing Tokyo Gore Police and learning Nishimura had a role in it (plus the cover art of Minase Yashiro w/ her slightly, ahem, modified school uniform, hoisting a badass gatling gun attached to her severed left arm, against a hellfire sky, had me sold. The mix of deep family ties w/ veins of feudal Japanese culture (here this ninja/Yakuza confab) and off-kilter dialogue (it helps if you understand Japanese, but the conversations are VERY funny in Noguchi's films) touched on a bunch of recurrent, typical Noguchi elements, and the gore (shuriken to the face, sawing people in half, and of course Yashiro's gatling arm) were the charmed combo of these two directors. Think Shinya Tsukamoto's Testuo, only less artsy and eons more splatter, in a schlocky, profane way.

Then I heard about 吸血少女対少女フランケン/Vampire Girl v. Frankenstein Girl, Nishimura's awesomely titled new film, from a trailer posted on Nippon Cinema. If Tokyo Gore Police's trailer had me going, THIS one made me almost wet myself, metaphorically speaking. The music sounded like proper Quentin Tarentino, and then the arterial spray begins, w/ new star (and gravure idol) Yukie Kawamura (as Monomi, in schoolgirl uniform, natch) dancing in front of a salaryman's spouting jugular like he's a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer's day and she's attempting to cool off. 0:30 in and she lunges at the camera, fangs out, we get the absurd film title, and then the gore guru takes it even further. Like: one girl's skeleton pops out top her head, another girl's face peels off like an apple skin, Keiko the Frankenstein Girl (Eri Otoguro) leaps in, wielding massive matte knives, another girl's head bursts (the camera lens is continually soaked in saturated red fluid) and then, back to the jugular-sprinkler scene, to a chorus of trumpets, Monomi opens her mouth wide and lets the bloodspray wash allllllll over her. She eyes a skull (w/ eyes still in it) and smiles so sweetly that I almost forgot she 1) pulled the skull through a girl's head and 2) there's perpetual blood-spurting all around her. And Keiko is supposed to be the antagonist??

Vampire Girl v. Frankenstein Girl is ostensibly a high-school romantic feud, b/w new student Monomi and Keiko, leader of the Gothic Lolitas, the trendy girls, as they both liked the sleepy heartthrob Mizushima (Takumi Saito, who goes on to star as another despicable heartthrob in Noguchi's Robogeisha, the bastard). Nishimura hyperbolized the Japanese high-school setting and subcultures w/ the garish Ganguro girls (who must be taken w/ an enormous grain of salt, and they're still barely watchable) and the Lolitas. Plus, there was a wrist-cutting group, extended from a commercial in Tokyo Gore Police to a club at this twisted high-school, which even included some sort of slash-off rally (Sayako Nakoshi, 'penis-nose girl' from Tokyo Gore Police, loses, slicing completely through her forearm). Kanji Tsuda (a prevalent nervy figure in contemporary Japanese cinema, like Steve Bucemi but younger and less profane) plays Keiko's father, who of course is a mad scientist a la Victor Frankenstein, only he dons this Kabuki garb before performing his gruesome wetwork. Jiji Bu (Tokyo Gore Police's medical examiner) returns as groundskeeper Igor, which I fear has become his typecast character, though he does it so well. And to really push it over the top, plus synthesizing it w/ Nishimura's previous work, Eihi Shiina cameos as Monami's mom. We learn quite quickly that Keiko is a back-stabbing (no pun) bitch, out to ruin Monami and win Mizushima over. And though Monami is, ahem, exceedingly violent in full vampiric mode (the face-peel and arterial spray are both her doing), she is an incredibly empathetic and cute character. Her dialogue w/ Mizushima in particular, saying "ピンポン!" (sounds like "Ping Pong!" but means "bingo!") to one of his assertions, is signature girlishness. When Keiko becomes Frankenstein Girl, thanks to her dad, outfitted w/ Gaguro girl legs (for stamina and speed) and wrist-cutter girl arms (endurance and weaponry), and she and Monami have it out atop Tokyo Tower, I found myself thinking: 'this is even more out-there than Tokyo Gore Police. Nishimura's done it.'

I saw the other Nishimura-contributing films at the 2009 NYAFF. Takanori Tsujimoto's duet Hard Revenge Milly and Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle (think Luc Besson's Nikita, only ultraviolent and shot mostly in parking garages) screened back-to-back (the only way, IMO, to see 'em), w/ Nishimura's obvious makeup SFX, straight after Vampire Girl v. Frankenstein Girl, and by then my brain had melted from all the gore. And b/c I couldn't help myself, I caught Kengo Kaji's ero-guro サムライプリンセス 外道姫/Samurai Princess (the extra characters in the Japanese title translate to roughly "demon woman") as well, which was replete w/ blood geysers (and again featured that weird melding of genres in alternate-universe feudal Japan). So what's next after becoming a Nishimura fanatic? Answer: a proponent. One who follows his oeuvre and professes it to others, enlightening them to the dopeness found amid the ruined bodies and bloodspray. Viewing a Nishimura production is akin to riding the "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" at Walt Disney World: you know the free-fall is coming and when it happens you gasp and scream with a delighted terror, realizing deep w/in your subconscious that you're about to be dropped a second time. It's this nervous, giddy anticipation of that SECOND DROP that is most like a Nishimura film.

Iguchi's feudal mashup Robogeisha screened as just a teaser trailer at the 2009 NYAFF. In it we see Nishimura's droll cameo, as a customer of lead actress (and gravure idol) Aya Kiguchi's (he swiftly receives a blade to the jaw). Robogeisha's belated NY premiere came earlier this month ( at Japan Society, where the Subway Cinema crew announced some of the upcoming titles to this year's NYAFF/Japan Cuts. Two very particularly awesome things (amid many, many awesome things) occurred here: 1) Nishimura's short film 吸血少女フランケン/Vampire Frankenstein Girl, a spin-off of...well, you know and 2) the trailer for 戦闘少女/Mutant Girls Squad, the combo Nishimura/Iguchi/Sakaguchi feature that is like a very cruel, very bizarro all-girl "X-Men", kind of, and is the centerpiece presentation of the 2010 NYAFF (last year's centerpiece was Vampire Girl v. Frankenstein Girl). I've little to go on thus far regarding the latter, except w/ three directors we can expect an ensemble cast from their previous films (Kanji Tsuda already features rather skittishly in the trailer). And you KNOW I'm going to see it at the NYAFF. Vampire Frankenstein Girl felt more in Tokyo Gore Police's near-future Tokyo, a neon-drenched, nearly dialogueless 15-minute hand-held short, w/ Tsugumi Nagasawa ('croc-girl' from Tokyo Gore Police) as the titular character. Though she wore a Monami-style sailor suit, Nagasawa styled it more like a Kegadol ("injured idol", eyepatch and bandage fetish) and seemed uncomfortable w/ her role in life as a vampire. In her soliloquy at the beginning, she vowed to only target violent cases, like this pink-haired weirdo kidnapping and mutilating girls. His target? Two Ganguro girls and one wrist-cutter girl (Sayako Nakoshi), like they came straiiight from Vampire Girl v. Frankenstein Girl. The pervert is also some sort of biomechanics wizard (or more appropriately, an "Engineer", like from Tokyo Gore Police), attacking the girls and hacking off various limbs. Nagasawa drops in to obliterate the pervert, like an afterthought, and is mauled by the now composite Ganguro/wrist-cutter. One highly-stylized fight scene and Nagasawa leaps through the torso of the Frankenstein Girl, lodging midway through. And so we have the titular character, fully realized, Vampire Frankenstein Girl, out to assassinate societal perverts. And as messed up as that image may be, by the credits role Nagasawa looks pretty pleased w/ herself.