Directed by Ryu Kaneda, Masanori Adachi, Masaaki Komiya, Junpei Mizusaki and Hiroshi Ando
Distributed by Tokyo Shock
Kazari and Yoko
Twin sisters Yoko and Kazari have a loving mother, but their mother only cares for one of them. Mommy dearest enjoys beating Yoko and treating her like a worthless animal. Not a single soul seems to care for little Yoko until she helps an old woman, Mrs. Suzuki, find her lost dog. Will the elderly woman’s love help Yoko break free from the emotional scarring she has endured for so many years?
Talk about a well shot, well acted … and utterly depressing story. Yoko is easy to sympathize with thanks to her genuine performance and innocent nature that lasts all the way to the bitter end when she orchestrates her revenge on both her sister and mother. This reviewer refuses to spoil the ending, but I’ll just say that the end justified the means.
Kazari and Yoko never becomes preachy about the subject of child abuse; not even the reasoning for her mother’s abusive nature is explained aside from a slight nod that she may be a drunk. The entire affair stays simple as a story about a little girl who just wants to be loved and live like normal people.
Someone has kidnapped several women and placed them in separate small concrete prison cells, each with one large metal door and one light. Luckily for one of the ladies, she got locked up with her tiny brother who can navigate the small water passages that connect the rooms. It is soon discovered that he comes at six o’clock on the sixth day of captivity to kill his prisoners and our young heroes must find some way to break free if they want to live.
Seven Rooms seems very familiar. The color palette and overall drabness of the setting feel like a film we’ve all seen before. I wasn’t quite sure which film until he makes his first appearance brandishing a chainsaw. It was right there that it became clear. Seven Rooms is like a mini-Hostel sans the graphic violence; we never see someone chopped up but we know it happens.
Does this mean that Seven Rooms is just as fun as the Roth film it appears to copy? Nope. While the camera work and tension make for an interesting 20+ minutes, there’s never a big payoff, just more depression. More tears are shed than blood, and that does not make this horror fan happy. It is difficult not to wonder why some people just don’t try to fight back, especially when you outnumber a guy six to one. Good try, but not fulfilling enough.
A young boy’s parents have been killed in a car accident, but they have returned to him. Neither the mother nor the father can see each other, yet both can see and talk to their son. Their son is stuck in the middle, relaying messages between the two of them, but their separate worlds are becoming more and more disjointed.
This episode has nothing to do with horror. The parents aren’t even really dead! Oops, spoiled the twist. Being teased like this really makes the blood boil. So far we have one real horror story and two that are more about bad parenting than bloodshed … what is wrong with this picture? Zoo’s DVD cover art makes one believe that these are horrific tales, but we are almost to the end and there’s nothing that has made a single hair stand up on the back of my hairy neck. Fuckity, fuckity, fuck.
In its defense, however, So Far does a good job of addressing how marital problems can have a deep impact on a child caught in the middle. It is good in its own right in an After School Special sort of way rather than a ghost story. Two more to go, and these last ones will hopefully be part of our genre.
Hidamari No Shi
Millions of years in the future, humans have gone extinct. Cities lay in ruin, slowly being overgrown by greenery, and animals now can now live in peace. Who will carry on the human culture? Who will take care of the bunnies?! Simulants!
Again we horror fans are faced with something that cannot be considered part of our genre by any stretch. There’s a little blood thanks to a dead rabbit, but that can hardly be considered horror unless the little hopper comes back from the dead to feast on the carrots of the living.
Hidamari No Shi is still not a bad bit of work, even if it doesn’t strike a cord in our black hearts. The thought of a world whose only human-like inhabitants are robots is interesting. One robot creates another just before it dies so the new one can … tend to a garden. Sigh. The audience never gets to know how we got snuffed out of existence, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to matter. I have a sneaking suspicion it had to do with the Bush administration. Just a hunch.
This is the only animated story in the lot, and it has a special flair. The mixture of soft colors, CGI and cell-shading give this piece a haunting alien look at our familiar world. The characters are all soft spoken and have one note performances, so it seems the real star of the story is the situation. For the remainder of the Earth’s days one robot will make another to keep a very small flame burning in honor of the human race. This is a pretty damn depressing DVD. Where’s my gun?
Love can be a dangerous mistress. It can make us do things we never imagined. Love can turn a man on his brother with the slightest smell of jealousy. The emotion can even backfire and cause the delicate balance of reality and fantasy to implode like a dying star. OK, maybe not. Love, however, did cause a young photo-bug to kill his girlfriend in the middle of an abandoned zoo while a zebra watched. Animal snuff porn, anyone?
Finally, a horror film! A horror film that makes no sense what-so-ever! OK, we can’t be picky here since it is the only story out of five that has some gruesome images. The audience is constantly shown images of the guy’s dead girlfriend in various states of yummy decomposition, and this more than makes up for the story not making any sense. For whatever reason the zoo in which he killed her disappears after several months of the murder and the aforementioned zebra vanishes from the pictures he took of his ex. She may be a vengeful ghost, or the zebra, or a vampire. I don’t know! Oh, and someone is sending him back all of the pictures he took of her dead body, one at a time. At least the story is a little creepy and we get a dead body, and that is the shining light on this very, very depressing DVD.
Though the stories for the most part may be cool (depending on what other genres you like outside of horror), we never get to delve deeper into what made them tick. Usually making-of featurettes show us how something is made or how the story transitioned from page to film … but that doesn’t happen here. The behind-the-scenes videos for So Far and Seven Rooms are more like loosely strung together interviews than an actual look at the filmmaking process. The young actors get plenty of screen time in both featurettes where they discuss their feelings on the cast/crew and the excitement of working in the movie industry, but does this really constitute a making-of ? A slight saving grace is the amount of footage featuring the crew at work, but again not once is anything explained to us about their respective episodes, experiences or anything remotely interesting.
Zoo is a great work of visual art, but the stories never satisfy that thirst for blood. It is entirely possible to look at this DVD and say, “Wow! These are beautiful films,” but by the end there’s little to remember about them. It also does not help that most of the segments end on such depressing notes that it is difficult not to put a gun to your head. Maybe these suicidal tendencies could have been averted if we saw a few more dead bodies or at least a limb getting chopped off. Hell, right now this reviewer would settle for some creepy long-haired kids who croak. I feel the need to blog and write bad poetry … must resist!
• Making-of So Far
• Making-of Seven Rooms
• Trailer and TV spots
3 out of 5
2 out of 5
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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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