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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
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July 27, 2006
So I was streaming KCRW's "The Treatment" a while back and Elvis Mitchell was interviewing Eli Roth, the director of Cabin Fever and last year's gruesome critique of the "Ugly American" archetype - Hostel. Roth vented frustration over the state of filmmaking in the United States and in particular that of horror cinema, expressing regret that horror and shock films are instantly discredited as being juvenile or unworthy of serious critique simply because of their intense subject matter. The main point Roth made was that currently only Asian cinema is producing the kind of rough and honest shock/horror films that, during the 1960's and 70's, were the exclusive domain of North American directors like John Carpenter, Wes Craven and David Cronenberg.

Being the huge fan of shock/horror that I am and recognizing the derth of quality films readily available on the New Release walls of video stores in the US, I took it upon myself to compile a list of great Asian films that I've had the opportunity to watch. This is a list for people who are new to the genre - readers familiar with the struggles of Dae-su Oh, the phrase "kiri, kiri, kiri" and the contents of Fruit Chan's Dumplings probably know and love these films already. I also regret that I am not aware of any female directors in this genre and therefore apologize for the lack of female inclusion on the list. I should also preface this list with a word of warning: I would not recommend theses flicks to people uncomfortable with extreme violence, spurting blood, creepy children or scary hair-dos. I recommend these to film lovers, thrill-seekers and those who realize fake blood often tastes sugary - even as they watch it splatter across the screen.

Part one: Japan - This wire cuts meat and bone easily...

Takashi Miike (pronounced mee-kay) is currently THE name to drop when discussing Japanese cinema, and rightly so (check out a review of his latest film, Izo, and another of his films, Ichi the Killer's inclusion on Abi Huynh's Films That Need More Love). The man is one of the most prolific living directors, having helmed over 60 films since his debut in 1991. Most of Miike's work is mediocre but there are some films in his canon that are simply mind-blowing and like NOTHING that has ever been released in the United States. Required Miike viewing includes:

The Audition - Miike lulls you into a false sense of security/boredom and then out comes the butcher wire and needles. During its festival screenings, many audience members had to leave the theatre, vomit or faint in their seats. This really put Miike on the map, internationally speaking.

Ichii The Killer - Masochistic gang leader Kakihara takes a brutally sadistic turn as he seeks to discover who turned his boss into a pile of guts and bloody organs. This is reputed to be one of the most violent films ever made. I thought Irreversible was worse - but not much. This is not a film to watch while eating.

Visitor Q - This is your chance to see the most dysfunctional family of all time meets reality television. This film has more debauchery (the incest and necrophilia are just the appetizers) than Salo and yet it has a strange appeal.

Dead or Alive (D.O.A.) - Yakuza, nuclear weapons and the most frenetic opening montage ever filmed. This is a great starting point for Miike fans.

City of Lost Souls - Star-crossed lovers in the midst of a gang war and the most amazing cockfight ever filmed.

Gozu - At one point in the trailer a man screams that Gozu means "cow-headed demon." This film will remind viewers of David Lynch's work. You never, ever want to get stuck in this town.

Happiness of the Katakuris - A Miike musical... I'm not kidding. This film is a bit like blending The Sound of Music with I Spit on Your Grave.


Other notable Japanese shock/horror directors and their films:

Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa) builds tension to painful levels in his films. Many of his plotlines are incoherent but nonetheless interesting to watch. Cure and Pulse's sheer hopelessness will turn your stomach.

Recommended: Cure and Pulse

---
Shion Sono: Of Sono's work, I have only seen Suicide Club. It is a frightening film in the way it treats the shocking events that unfold in such a sterile, clinical way. This flick also serves as proof that teenybopper pop can kill.

Recommended: Suicide Club

---
Higuchinsky: Spiral is a whirlpool of a film. You will be sucked in and caught up in the vortex before you know it. This is, by far, one of the most visually stunning of the recent Japanese fare. An isolated Japanese village becomes obsess with spiral forms - madness ensues.

Recommended: Spiral (Uzumaki)

---
Shinya Tsukamoto: Tsukamoto is the godfather of the modern Japanese film movement and his work has inspired others on an international level. Tsukmoto's worlds are highly surreal and much of his inspiration seems to be drawn from David Cronenberg's fascination with the increasingly blurred line between biology and technology.

Recommended: Tetsuo the Iron Man and A Snake of June

---
Takashi Shimizu: This guy is the reason for all of the hype surrounding J-Horror remakes in Hollywood. The Grudge was originally a TV movie and then was remade several times in different forms for the big screen. Sam Rami (director of Spiderman, A Simple Plan and the Evil Dead trilogy) loved at least one of The Grudge's many incarnations so much that he had Shimizu make an American version.

Recommended: Ju-on (The Grudge) and Marebito

---
Hideo Nakata: This guy originated The Ring concept and made children really, really scary for a whole new generation of horror fans.

Recommended: Ringu (The Ring), Chaos and Dark Water

---
Kinji Fukasaku: Fukasaku is much more of a contemporary of Akira Kurosawa than anyone else on this list and yet his film Battle Royale is one of the most fascinating and shocking films made in the last decade.

Recommended: Battle Royale and Battles Without Honor and Humanity

---
Ryuhei Kitamura: A punk rock visionary auteur. Versus pits the Japanese mafia against Zombies in the forest of resurrection. Really, really fun in a Dead by Dawn sort of way.

Recommended: Versus and Azumi

---
Takeshi Kitano: This man is a force to be reckoned with. Kitano was known in Japan as a comedian (you may have seen his show, Takeshi's Castle, on Spike TV) and then he exploded with the film Violent Cop and has since made classics like Fireworks, Sonantine, Kikojiro and Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman. Kitano owns his own production company and is most commonly referred to as "Beat" Takeshi.

Recommended: You can't go wrong with any of the films Kitano has directed, or about half of the movies he's acted in for that matter.


Part 2 of this feature will highlight notable Korean films/filmmakers. Part 3 will cover shock/horror cinema from other parts of Asia including China, Vietnam and Thailand. Look for these features in the coming weeks.

--
Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.

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