Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Monday, February 18, 2008


       When you’re writing a blog devoted to “the more obscure outlying reaches of cinema”, you come to accept that there are just certain types of films you won’t get the opportunity to pontificate upon. Popular film genres just don’t tend to lend themselves to the restrictions of smaller-scale, lower-budgeted, unconventional movie-making; and independent filmmakers tend to want to establish their own conventions, rather than work within previously established genres (Wes Anderson, for example). So when Japan’s most prolific contemporary filmmaker decides to make a movie within the Action/Adventure genre -- a Superhero film, no less; and arguably, -- in structure, at least -- a kid’s movie as well... -- well, this blogger feels the need to pay some attention. And while it’s by no means his best film, Zebraman is certainly a worthy addition to Takashi Miike’s ever-growing body of work.

       Elementary schoolteacher Shinichi Ichikawa is a bit of a sad-sack and more than a bit of a bumbler. His co-worker’s like him well enough, but don’t exactly respect him; and his family seems to tolerate him, but not exactly look up to him. Which is probably why they don’t even bat an eye -- or really even much notice -- when he takes to sewing his own costume of his favorite childhood television superhero: Zebraman. Ichikawa befriends a handicapped transfer student, Asano, who shares his love of the long since cancelled Zebraman TV series. They discover that the events related in the series seem to be occurring -- for real -- in their own small village. At the same time, Ichikawa has taken to walking the streets at night in his somewhat crudely-assembled Zebraman costume; but much more inexplicably, he has also started to show signs of manifesting Zebraman’s extraordinary “abilities”. That’s the “set-up” for the film, and if it sounds fairly ridiculous... -- well, you’ll get no argument from me.

       In addition to being the most prolific, Takashi Miike is easily Japan’s most protean filmmaker as well, having made a score of ”Yakuza” (read: “Gangster”) pictures, a number of Horror films (the much-better-than-its-awful-American-remake, One Missed Call; the excellent and previously blogged about Audition); A musical; an elegiac Art-house piece; A bizarre Lynch-ian melodrama and any of a number of period pieces set at various points during the history of feudal Japan. If you give points for sheer variety of styles attempted, than few filmmakers -- from any country of origin -- can outscore Miike. The common threads running through all of his films include a sly, absurdist sense of humor; a tendency to break away from the conventions of “genre”, even when he’s making a film that ostensibly fits the mold; and a willingness to portray a level of graphic violence that would undoubtedly cause some of you, dear readers, to run screaming from the theater. That being said, Zebraman is pretty mild on that front; although, take what I said about it being a “kid’s movie” with a grain of salt -- not too many films for children start with a scene in which one character suggests to another that he “upgrade to a better class of prostitute”.

       This brief scene -- featuring Zebraman and Zebra-Nurse -- gives some idea of the screwball appeal of the film. It becomes available on region 1 DVD this Tuesday, and is a pretty good intro to the work of Japan’s most notorious contemporary filmmaker. Now excuse me, I have some sewing I need to attend to...

Next post -- 02/29/08

No comments: