DID YOU READ

“The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” “Deep Red”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” Facets/Kino International, 1987]

“Kamikaze documentary” — that was the phrase used by more than one critic when Kazuo Hara’s bristling, intensely odd film “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” cut its slim but recalcitrant swath through the world’s theaters in 1987. It earns the label. Documentaries themselves are, in a way, the safest kind of movie — safely moral in concept, safely conventional in form, and usually unadventurous as a viewing experience. Unless you’re Werner Herzog (a veteran kamikaze), you’re most likely to make a non-fiction film about an injustice or social situation to which there are a limited amount of conceivable responses. As entertainment, docs can be safe to the point of tedium, never voyaging out into unknown waters or testing our role as viewers.

There are exceptions, of course, that tend to lodge in the memory because they exude the electrical charge of risk and danger. (I’m thinking Herzog, natch, but also “Winter Soldier,” Frederick Wiseman’s “Titicut Follies,” the Maysles’ “Grey Gardens,” the genuine war-in-the-streets frisson of Patricio Guzman’s “The Battle of Chile,” etc.) Life, as it happens, uncontrollable and chaotic, is the documentary’s secret, and too often unemployed, mega-weapon. So it is with Hara’s film, a rough-and-tumble chronicle of the present life of a sociopathic moralist as he dramatically confronts postwar Japanese society. Kenzo Okuzai is that rare animal — an authentic anti-authoritarian who, because he’s willing to lose everything, cannot be intimidated or daunted by social norms and laws. By the time filming begins, the “anti-emperorist” Okuzai already has a long record of domestic resistance (including publicly pelting Hirohito with marbles in 1969, a notorious episode in modern Japanese lore), and is now committed to uncovering an illegal killing during WWII while his platoon was stationed in New Guinea.

Investigating a murder that took place in the midst of the hellacious Pacific war of the ’40s has an ironic taste to it, but Okuzai is dead serious, and nothing stands in his way — demanding the truth be told, he routinely assaults and kicks his aging and sometimes ailing fellow veterans, who are naturally reticent to talk about 40-year-old crimes. He duplicitously presents his own family to the witnesses as survivors of the murdered soldier, and even pulls admissions of cannibalism from the old men. (They’re more relaxed about owning up to hunting the presumably more game-like natives for food; only when the Guineans proved too fleet and clever did the Emperor’s warriors resort to killing and eating each other.) Throughout, Okuzai carries himself with a bizarre mixture of polite Japanese stolidity and feverish anger; when the police deal with him (which is frequently), they are at a loss as to what to do — the man’s rampaging behavior, even if he’s responsible for very little damage to limb and property in the end, sets society’s fragile structures shaking. Of course, Hara colludes with his subject (the film crew gives Okuzai’s crusade a legitimate feel), and reportedly the megalomaniacal Okuzai attempted to take over the film at several points. It’s a film in seething flux from scene to scene — kinda like life.

Dario Argento’s is a more easily stomached style of frisson — the Italian horror-maven/style-geyser has been such a popular name brand among psychotronica fans that by now he may seem like yesterday’s news, or perhaps may be known only as Asia’s dad and as the director of the gorier episodes from Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. But go back to 1975’s “Deep Red (Profondo Rosso),” and you see what still fuels Argento’s reputation as Europe’s premier pulp wizard. A ridiculous giallo serial murder plot set in Rome, with slumming star David Hemmings (star of Antonioni’s “Blow-Up,” a fact hardly lost on Argento) as the wrong-man investigator-cum-target, is all you need to know about the film’s nods toward traditional “content.” The story turns out to be so baroque and hermetic that you end up just surrendering to Argento’s boggling visual density — the film is a moody, sadistic opera bouffe of swooping camera moves, infectious Old World atmosphere, compositional clues and nutsy set-pieces that don’t speak to the ostensible psychosis of the killer so much as to the obsessive imagination of the filmmaker.

“The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” (Facets) and “Deep Red” (Blue Underground) will be available on DVD on February 27.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.