DID YOU READ

The Minoru Kawasaki Collection, “The General”

The Minoru Kawasaki Collection, “The General” (photo)

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I have to be honest: Japanese pop culture terrifies me. While American pop culture, with its adolescence fetish, prideful ignorance, superhero love and submergent video game fantasias, can merely make me queasy, what I see flowing out of Japan triggers a flight response: the cute cult, the schoolgirl obsession, the giant-penis-monster animated porn, the apocalyptic visions, the oceans of twisted-fairy-tale manga, the deification of inexplicable toys, the combinations of all of the above, and so on. It’s as if, by Western junk-culture standards in the last three or so decades, Japan is going joyfully, helplessly insane.

Which accounts, obviously, for the stuff’s worldwide popularity. I just can’t often get my head around it, or see the opportunity to try, or track what kind of creative idea spawned something like Pokémon or Sailor Moon or the tentacle-rape epic “Urotsukidoji” or Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika” or gold-plated poop-shaped cell-phone trinkets, or take you pick. I think Minoru Kawasaki, the cheapskate Japanese pulp satirist semi-extraordinaire, shares my bafflement, and has converted it into derision.

True, “Executive Koala” (2005) — a psycho-thriller in which the hero is a man-sized koala-cum-salaryman — all too closely falls in line with huge strands of Japanese stuffed-animal worship, which itself cannot be measured on conventional scales of self-reference and irony. But the other Kawasakis hitting disc, “The Rug Cop” and “The World Sinks Except Japan” (both 2006), are unmistakable, ripping farces. “Executive Koala” keeps a straight face (until, at least, the obligatory Kawasaki music video sequence, executed in an arch style that makes the first B-52s videos look slick), but its launching into teeth-gnashing drama and suspense are outrageous, at least because of the ludicrous gray-furred, huge-headed marsupial costume stuffed into that business suit. The koala-ness is acknowledged as such by the humans in the story, but not as something unusual; nor do the giant white bunny boss or giant frog grocery clerk cause a stir. (We see the koala’s zipper, in close-up; does anyone else?) Kawasaki’s narrative methods are pure Skid Row — using available office space and barely bothering to dress it, having scenes begin with characters walking into rooms, etc. — and the neurotic travails of his hero (he’s an axe murderer and doesn’t know it) are given just enough respect to make us wonder which scene or image is an outright joke, or a set-up, or, perhaps, none of the above.

11182008_worldsinksexceptjapan.jpg“The Rug Cop” also supports an elaborate fighting-the-terrorists plotline, but the police force handling the task include the titular toupee-winger, a weight-lifting midget, a seductive Don Juan (who interrogates only women), and a secret-weapon-bearing officer named Big Dick. Still, “The World Sinks Except Japan,” while coming equipped with the drollest title of the decade, might be Kawasaki’s crowning achievement so far (in a busy career that has also given the world “The Calamari Wrestler” and a new film with a subtitle that’s been translated as “Attack the G8 Summit!”). Global warming literally drowns every scrap of land on Earth except Japan, a titanic cascade of events Kawasaki depicts with cheaply animated maps, cheaply exploding model cities and a roster of cynical characters hanging out in bars and watching social upheavals on the street (as in, police beating on “foreigners” trying to get away with stolen daikon radishes). The wave of refugees that swamps Japan includes world leaders (trying to curry the Prime Minister’s favor while out drinking) and surviving American movie stars (one named “Jerry Cruising”), but Kawasaki’s taste for low-ball mockery is universal, and Nippon nationalism is chided as mercilessly as the Bushian idiot president and Kim Jong Il are. As doomsday scenarios go, it’s the new compliment to Roger Corman’s “Gas!” and twice as shabby.

11182008_thegeneral.jpgBuster Keaton’s “The General” (1927) has few rivals as untouchable canon-classic comedy, and the new Kino DVD is long overdue, supplemented by a second disc of filming location tours, vintage intros (Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson), Keaton home movie footage, a montage of Keaton’s career-long series of train stunts, and three new scores to pick from. No reevaluation is necessary, however — it’s a perfect film, visually breathtaking, so confident and deft in its mise-en-scène that rewinding is mandatory, to see if what you thought just happened in real time actually did. Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.” may be a more insightful metafictional creation, but “The General” is twice that film’s weight in physical wonder and heartbreaking heroism. There is this, however — why hasn’t anyone, in this age of historical hyper-revisionism, pointed out that Keaton’s film demonizes the Union forces and heroizes, in a single-minded Hollywood way, the Confederacy and, implicitly, its defense of slavery? No one could suggest that Keaton, a Kansas-spawned vaudevillian born 30 years after the Civil War, was a slavery-nostalgic secessionist, could they? What would you say the film endorses, politically? Could even “The General,” that most harmless and beautiful of film culture chestnuts, be stretched on the rack of historico-cultural correctness, especially in ObamaWorld? I ask you: if not…why not?

[Photos: “The World Sinks Except Japan,” Klock Worx, 2006; “The General,” United Artists, 1927]

The Minoru Kawasaki Collection (Synapse Films) and “The General” (Kino Video) are now available on DVD.

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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.