Mutant Girls Squad (dirs. Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Tak Sakaguchi, 2010, Japan)
Ever since experiencing Nishimura's Tokyo Gore Police at the 2008 NYAFF (for you don't just "watch" a Nishimura film), this unique brand of extreme body horror, coupled w/ a cadre of beautiful actresses and deviant humor, has been at the core of my festival experience. Last year everything, all my anticipation, led up to Vampire Girl v. Frankenstein Girl. I caught Mutant Girls Squad's premiere along w/ the world premiere of Alien vs Ninja at this year's NYAFF and dug 'em both so much that of course I had to see the former at Fantastic Fest. The gory amalgamation concocted by the three leading minds is a riotous party, loads of off-kilter fun that stays firmly w/in their cherry Sno-cone blood-soaked sphere whilst excelling in the bizarre beyond their previous works. It's saying something when the 1st person who gets sawed in half (like 1.5 minutes into the film) doesn't faze me — more like a gentle comfort that "yes, I'm back with you now!" — yet seeing a girl get her face trisected vertically reminds me: they've found ANOTHER way to do that, awesome! Good news: the talent is hot. Iguchi (and I'm pinning Iguchi w/ this one) has an eye for leads, and the three here (Yumi Sugimoto as Rin, Yuko Takayama as Rei, and Suzuka Morita as Yuki) have backgrounds as gravure idols, though Takayama, the overall meanest of the lot, is also the lead in upcoming action drama Hana no Asuka-gumi NEO. More good news: perennial Iguchi/Nishimura collaborators Asami and Cay Izumi — two of the baddest-ass actresses I have the pleasure of knowing — take their action careers to new levels, w/ Asami as the retainer for the Tokyo police force (wielding two swords in what I think is called "niten-ichi-ryuu") and Cay as a Lolita-esque character w/ swords coming out her boobs. Oh I haven't mentioned the mutant girls yet: think of X-Men, only they're all young hot fashion models w/ bizarre, body-horror mutations (ass-chainsaw, the aforementioned sword-boobs) and instead of Professor X we get Tak Sakaguchi in drag (think a svelte Robert Smith). Directors Nishimura and Iguchi both cameo and die. Cay and Asami die as well, rather violently and creatively the both (I must wonder what remains in these directors' bag of tricks for creative killings, but I've no doubt they've got a LOT of surprises remaining). Kanji Tsuda (the wacked-out professor-slash-Dr. Frankenstein in Vampire Girl v. Frankenstein Girl) returns as Rin's smiley dad, but mainly as a decapitated talking head atop her floating birthday cake, in an extremely '80s-psychedelic sequence that recalls that coffee-drinking screensaverish bit on Earthbound, only w/ Tsuda's decapitated talking head atop a floating birthday cake. Another killer juxtaposition: Rin and Rei slow-dancing, inter-cut w/ Sakaguchi as this avian mutation, cackling and killing Tokyo PD, whilst Yuki fights a slashed-up, fire-throwing Sayako Nakoshi (Nishimura's omnipresent "wrist-cut girl"). I loved every minute of it.
Cold Fish (dir. Sion Sono, 2010, Japan)
When one of your idols — in my case, Sono-san — has a new creation, you want more than ever for it to exceed your expectations. And I wondered how Sono-san could top the harrowing, deviant religion-themed Love Exposure that wowed me and no doubt most who caught it at 2009's NAFF. Plus, he created one of my favorite films of all time, Noriko's Dinner Table, a darkest of dark family dramas. How could he outdo both the emotional resonance of his previous oeuvre plus cull up some ultraviolence to shock even those who brushed off the blood geysers in Suicide Club as been-there-done-that? He delivers big time w/ Cold Fish, a volatile cocktail of madness, double-talk and dismemberment, that bursts into CM-edited action straightaway (a door-slamming, jump-cut microwave dinner prep scene) and never lets up until the screen blacks out. Sono-san's trademark troubled family remains the film's core: meek dad Shamoto (Mitsuru Kukikoshi) runs a tropical fish store w/ his disobedient teenaged daughter, Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara) and her hot, barely older stepmom Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka), and it's clear from the sullen dinner table opener that Mitsuko hates Taeko and vice-versa. MItsuko gets nabbed shoplifting and, in a total deluge of rain, Shamoto and Taeko fetch her from the jovial Murata (Denden), a larger-than-life character w/ a salesman's grin & a silver tongue. He also runs a tropical fish store, like 10 times larger than Shamoto's, and invites them by. There, he offers Mitsuko a job & board in exchange for writing off her shoplifting, where she joins Murata's small army of hot young employees (all of them clad in army cut-offs and white tanktops), and the family meets Murata's equally hot young wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa). The family is swiftly won over by Murata's charms, the women 1st, then Shamoto, and all seems hunky-dory until Murata kills a man and blackmails Shamoto to assist him in body disposal. The darkness permeating the film thus far (you just KNOW the family's got issues) explodes to the surface at a frenetic pace. For those doubting Sono-san's ability to edit, considering Love Exposure's 4+ hour runtime, Cold Fish operates in near fast-forward, and w/ Murata's constant cheery-to-belligerent banter and Shamoto's growing franticness, we never get a moment to breathe. It's also tough to watch: the cringe-worthy moments, like Shamoto's eventual manic-takeover, where he growls at and punches his wife and daughter and takes over the butcherings, compete w/ a slo-mo chase scene in and around the "kill room" in Murata's mountain cabin. Here, Shamoto and Aiko slide around a gore-streaked bathroom, tripping over entrails and fighting one another (he conks her over the head w/ a Virgin Mary bust, one of the many religious articles in this cabin, but doesn't kill her) back to the kitchen then down the hall into the bathroom once again, until Shamoto emerges outside, his white shirt now pinkish-red. But for all the assaultive violence, this remains Sono-san's social entreaty, that the core family was doomed from the start (Taeko was never happy and cheats on Shamoto w/ Murata, Mitsuko is spoiled and distant from Dad, Shamoto is sex-crazed and passive-aggressive), and MItsuko's hysteric reaction when she finally faces her father jolts us back to this bleak reality.