Thursday, September 17, 2020

Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (United States, 1989)


NOTE: While going through some old papers recently, I came across this, my first published film review, which appeared in the SF Weekly in February of 1989. It concerns the Charles Bronson vehicle KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS. if I was writing the review today, i would mention that the film was produced by Golan & Globus for Canon Pictures and that it was exactly the kind of film that those two entitites built their reputations upon, and that it was helmed by GUNS OF NAVARONE director J.Lee Thompson. I just didn't think at that time that there were people who cared about that kind of thing. I also would have mentioned that it features an early appearance by a shockingly fresh-faced Danny Trejo if I had been able to predict the advent of the MACHETE movies. Longtime readers of this blog will recognize that, despite the review clearly being written by a less experienced hand, there are certain stylistic through-lines, such as my taking every opportunity the movie offers to make jokes about butt sex. 


CHARLES BRONSON'S FACE, weathered and worn like that of some hellish apple head doll, is, though not exactly pretty, a fitting visage for a man burdened with the anxieties of an entire nation. As one of the media's most enduring personifications of American paranoia, Bronson has reduced his screen performances to a series of choreographed walk-throughs. Questions of role or motivation are irrelevant, as are charges of predictability: Bronson does not act, he performs ritual. Despite appearances, this is no easy job.It was inevitable that, sooner or later, Bronson's burden of projected anxieties would crack his mask of stoic brutality snd give us a brief glimpse of what these "wipe the scum off the streets" movies are really all about.


Kinjite, Bronson's latest vehicle, is a rote action film leaden with underdeveloped subplots and subtexts that give the film's action a backdrop of dizzying ideological ambiguity. After his daughter is molested by a Japanese businessman, an issue is made of Bronson's virulent anti-Asian bias. This racism, once explicitly stated, is never fully examined or resolved, and ends up being, if anything, an affirmation of popular anti-Japanese sentiment. Alongside this, some statement seems to be being made about American vs. Japanese sexual mores. This theme is ultimately abandoned, leaving in its wake a slag heap of sleazy visual residue. Any attempt to turn a Bronson film into a psychological thriller is doomed to fail miserably due to these films' necessary lack of characterization. in Kinjite, the only way we find out what a character is supposed to be thinking is through clumsy verbal exposition.



Kinjite"s most interesting "theme" is graphically introduced in its opening scene, in which Bronson, playing L.A. police Lieutenant Crowe, breaks into a hotel room occupied by a teenage hooker and her snotty, white collar john. After brutally subduing the john, Bronson demands that he make a statement identifying  the man who has been supplying him with teenage girls. When the john refuses, Bronson throws him down on the bed, vowing to give the scumbag a taste of his own medicine. As the john screams in protest, Bronson picks up his nasty looking, foot-long dildo and lustily rams his message home (ow!) The next day, Bronson expresses some reservations about the incident to his wife (played by The Mod Squad's Peggy Lipton.) Soothing him, she observes that the arrogant yuppy probably just got Crowe/Bronson's "Irish" up.


In a subsequent scene, the stirringly androgynous pimp, Duke (Juan Fernandez), gets a formidable rise out of Bronson's Irish when he attempts to bribe him with his diamond-faced Rolex watch. "I'd like to shove this up your ass," responds Bronson. "But I don't want to get my hands dirty." Instead, Bronson forces Duke to swallow the watch at gunpoint. Though it's hard to say why Bronson has suddenly gotten all picky about his orifices, the grueling watch swallowing scene, coupled with the earlier butt-reeming, provides a perfect exposition of the American action film's pornography of consumption (in the course of the film, Bronson--and Kinjite's producers--consume/destroy numerous cars, hotel lobbies and, at the climax, an entire shipyard.) Like most of filmland's pimps, Duke expresses his sexuality/power through his props, be they implausibly stunning young prostitutes or flashy wrist watches. When he actually has sex, it is a grim duty, a solemn rite necessary to the indoctrination of young girls into his harem. When Bronson forces the watch down Duke's throat, he turns this prop into the messenger of his own sexual power, just as he does when he violates the impotent john with his own substitute sex organ.



Obviously, in Kinjite, Bronson is finally giving his anxieties their most honest form of physical expression. His desire to literally fuck everyone is further exposed when, later in the film, his pastor suggests that his affections for his teenage daughter are something other than fatherly. "We all have our demons," he counsels.

Along with it's explicit and metaphorical depictions. bungholing is also paid a lot of lip service in Kinjite.  We hear of a young girl who has been raped and sodomized by Duke and his gang. Repo Man's Sy Richardson, tragically wasted here as Duke's monosyllabic toady, ogles a young man's behind as he speaks to Duke about branching out into the chickenhawk trade.


As for its treatment of "normal" (i.e. straight) sex, Kinjite provides little contrast to its lead characters' oddly motivated rectal preoccupations. The wives of Bronson and Hada, the Japanese businessman, are hollow and housebound, used mainly as expository devices. When Hada (James Pax) and his wife have sex, it is brief, joyless and almost entirely without movement. (This, presumably, is how Japanese people "do it.") When his wife asks him why,  after two years of abstinence, he has deigned to make love to her, Hada replies, "I guess because we are so vulnerable here (in America)."

Outside the home, all of the film's women are prostitutes. In this world, the only significant relationships are between male partners; Bronson/Crowe and his sidekick Rios (Perry Lopez) on the one side, Duke and his crony on the other. When these two couples get together, it's something like an overblown, tag-team bitch fight complete with pyrotechnics.


Unlike the film's other themes, which are dropped in favor of car chases and explosions, Kinjite's anal obsession carries through to its last frame.  In the final scene, Bronson, smirking triumphantly, leads Duke to his prison cell and introduces him to his bunkmate-to-be, a leering psychotic rapist. As Duke loudly protest his new roomie's advances, Bronson calmly walks away, almost wistful as he utters the film's final line; 'That's justice."

This vision of karmic justice meted out in buggery makes Kinjite a film that only an asshole could love.   

Sunday, September 6, 2020

No Sleep Since Brooklyn



It seems like just yesterday that my wife and I moved from San Francisco to Oakland, California--and, in truth, it was only a few year ago. Nevertheless, we have moved again; this time to Brooklyn, New York. Why, you may ask? Well, because, where I have a collection of DVDs and old toys, my wife has a "career", and when that career requires that she move to New York, I have no reason not to go with her. Add to that the fact that I have always loved New York (and, by extension, Brooklyn) and that some of my best and oldest friends live here and the decision, as they say, was pretty much a no brainer. Now we've settled in a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood and I have a huge combination office-studio that is suitable in scale to my sweeping artistic vision. 

A lot has happened since we arrived here. My mother, who has been declining rapidly over the past few months, died within a couple days of our arrival. We flew back to California for a few days to support my family and settle mom's affairs and, when we returned, were required by the decree of our new governor to not leave our house for fourteen days. During that time, my wife and I realized that we were ideally suited for lockdown, she being a misanthrope and me being a stay-at-home. And if you find yourself wondering why New York is doing relatively well while other major cities are being walloped by Covid, it's because of this; absolutely EVERYONE in NYC wears a mask and practices social distancing, and will seriously get on your case if you do not. It's like a matter of civic pride.

It turns out I had a lot to do during quarantine, in addition to unpacking all those DVDs and old toys. I finished two new literary works , my first since putting the SF Punk Trio to bed last year.  One is a novel called Anon and the other is a novella/deluxe short story called Murderworld.  Both are horrific sci-fi mysteries with a core of social commentary. They are also, like the SF Punk books, filled with profanity and humor. I think you'll like them.

Of course, in the chaos of moving across country, a few things did fall by the wayside, most of them in the audio realm. I have been terribly remiss in updating both my podcast, Friday's Best Pop Song Ever, and my radio show, Pop Offensive. If you are a fan of either or both of these (as you should be) please rest assured that I have no intention of abandoning either. One of the arguably good things about being a creature of the internet is that it is very difficult to put any distance between yourself and your web-based commitments. Just this morning, I added the 29th (!) episode of FBPSE to the Stitcher feed and very soon I will be remotely producing the 68th (!!) episode of Pop Offensive for streaming from KPGC969.org.

Of course, my new environment might inspire other changes, such as me using the term "youse" instead of "you" and using phrases like "That's the beauty part." If this concerns you, I only have one thing to say: 

Fuhgeddaboudit!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Time was a thing of the past


As the quarantine wore on and the routines that structured our lives faded from memory, there emerged a new conception of time—one appropriate for a moment in which an hour could seemingly last a day and a week an hour. In other words, any dream we had of a highly efficient future dependent on the precise measurement of all things measurable gave way to an actual future whose nature was a lot more uncertain.

So fluid and ephemeral had time become that we had to come up with increasingly flexible ways to delineate it. For instance, I might tell someone that my birthday was on the Tweleventh of Maypril. We got rid of Monday, because no one liked it, and replaced it with an extra-long cycle called T’Whensday. You could make an appointment to meet somebody at Noone, as long as you both had the stamina to return to the spot again and again until that could be accomplished, which sometimes could take as long as a month.

A lot required changing in this time-dependent society. The trains no longer ran on time; they just ran constantly. Sometimes you would have to get on and off of oppositely bound trains several times to get to your desired stop. The standard practice in restaurants was to order several meals so that at least one of them would be ready before you had to leave. Television was nothing but CCTV feeds and drone footage, so no schedule was necessary.

One the bright side to this is that, because time was no longer a measurable quantity, a lot of the tired old bromides about it were no longer applicable. How could you “Live for today” if today only lasted a few seconds? and how could time be on your side when it was so obviously committed to flustering you on every level of consciousness?

As for myself, and as a writer, I am tempted not to end my stories because it is time that requires that those stories end. And if this story ends, it is because I fell asleep.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Retaliation (Japan, 1968)


By Hollywood standards, you’d think that Yasuharu Hasebe barely had time for a bathroom break between making 1967’s Massacre Gun and its sequel, Retaliation, which came out less than a year later. But that’s just the way Nikkatsu, with its systematic approach to quickly and economically churning out low budget genre entertainment, did business in those days. And directors like Yasuharu, who reliably churned out one crowd pleasing pulp movie after another, were the studio’s life blood. Hell, he even turned out a third film The Singing Gun¸ between the two.

Massacre Gun was only Yasuharu’s second film, following his psychotronic debut Black Tight Killers. In comparison to that film, Massacre Gun is a surprisingly conservative film, with very little of the stylistic experimentation of its predecessor, which may account for its success. As the career of Yasuharu’s mentor Seijun Suzuki attests, Nikkatsu didn’t put a lot of effort behind films that it thought were weird. And Black Tight Killers may just be as weird as Suzuki’s chosen method of career suicide, Branded to Kill, which famously featured Jo Shishido as a rice-sniffing hit man.


R
etaliation is less of a direct sequel to Massacre Gun than it is a spiritual one. Both star Jo Shishido and Hideaki Natani as similar but differently named characters. Both films concern a trio of Yakuza foot soldiers who rebel against their boss and become hunted by them as a result. And though the differences between the two movies are mostly formal they are nonetheless considerable.

For one, that Massacre stars Jo Shishido and is filmed in shadowy black and white makes it seem more akin to the Nikkatsu New Action films that came before it. While Shishido has a substantial role in Retaliation, the above the title role goes to Akira Kobayashi, one of Nikkatsu’ touted “Diamond Line” of charismatic male stars. This fact made the studio loosen the purse strings enough to give Yasurahu a decent budget this time. And his most obvious expense was to film in Eastman Color, giving him the opportunity to splash around a lot of that fire engine red blood that Japanese filmmakers of the time were so fond of, and also lens a lot of naked female flesh. The resulting increase in violence, simulated sex and nudity makes Retaliation read like a precursor of the more violent “Pinky Violence’ and “Roman Porno” films that the studio started making in the 1970s. Acting as a harbinger of this is Female Convict Scorpion/Lady Snowblood star, Meiko Kaji, who has a small role as a captive farmgirl.


The film begins with Yakuza assassin Jiro, played by Akira Kobayashi, returning from an eight year bid to visit his boss, the godfather of the Ichimanji Family, who is on his deathbed. The godfather tells him that Hasama (Hideaki Natani), the Godfather of a rival clan, has been paying his medical bills and asks that Jiro pay him a visit and thank him for his kindness. Hasama is impressed by Jiro and recruits him on the spot. He asks that Jiro go to Takagawa City, a rural farming community turned boom town thanks to a factory being recently built there. The reigning Yakuza clan there, the Tono, are rapidly being displaced by a new gang, The Aoba Clan, who are driving the remaining farmers off their land and selling their property to the factory’s owner at a profit. Hasama promises that, if he can put an end to the conflict, Jiro can have complete control of the city. Taking Hasama at his word Jiro heads to Takagawa with JoJi (Jiro Okazaki) an ambitious younger Yakuza, by his side.

Meanwhile, another assassin named Hino (Jo Shishido) is tailing Jiro, planning to avenge Jiro’s murder of his brother. His first attempt fails when Hino’s tearful wife intercedes. This happens a few times in the film as, Hino’s wife appears to always be hovering on the sidelines waiting for her chance to jump in and tearfully plead with him to give up his life of crime. Each time, Hino begrudgingly accedes, reminding Jiro “You’re mine. Don’t forget that.” As Hino’s dogged pursuit makes him Jiro’s virtual traveling companion, the two of them eventually forge a reluctant bond, Hino agreeing to accompany Jiro to Tagakawa City.


And when the trio of Jiro, Hino and Joji reach the city, Retaliation doubles down on the Kurosawa homage. A la Seven Samurai, Jiro, Hino and Joji find themselves sympathetic to the plight of the humble farmers and appalled by the strong-arm tactics of the Aoba clan. The Aobas, you see, are a new strain of Yakuza: crude young street thugs with none of the respect for honor and decorum that their elders have, and prone to rampaging through the streets and terrorizing the women and children for fun. Thankfully, a la Yojimbo, Jiro manages to escalate the conflict between the gangs until it leads to an apocalyptic gun battle that greatly reduces their numbers.

It is appropriate that Retaliation concerns itself with generational conflict, as it is a film which occurred at a time of transition for a studio that famously survived economic turbulence by changing with the times. And it’s audience. Given those times were the 1960s and 1970s, that’s no small accomplishment. During that time, Yasuharu Hasebe was one of the few directors who directed films in every one of Nikkatsu’s cycles, including New Action, Pinky Violence, and Ero Guro. When the studio started leaning more toward full-on porn at the start of the 80s, he finally called it quits, thought not before directing such appetizing titles as Rape!, Raping! And Rape! 13th Hour. He then closed out his career directing for various television series, including the classic Tokusatsu show Spectreman.


Of course, people like myself who yell about movies on the internet tend to spend too much time parsing genre. The truth is that, if a film is well made, which Retaliation certainly is, your enjoyment of it should not depend on how it’s bagged and tagged. That I enjoyed Retaliation very much is largely due to Yasuhara Hasebe’s unfailing commitment to his craft. It’s beautifully lensed, well-acted, fast paced and peppered with expertly staged action throughout. File it under: recommended.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday's best pop song ever

It's the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER Podcast #28; "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory"


I have no excuse adequately to explaining why I am posting the March episode of the Friday's Best Pop Song Ever podcast on April 17. All I can offer you by way of apology is the best episode I could produce about one of the coolest songs ever

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Glass and a Cigarette (Egypt, 1955)


Despite being fronted by a trio of Egypt’s most beloved female entertainers, A Glass and a Cigarette, with its retrograde sexual politics, does women few favors. After all, what hoary old patriarchal stereotype is more hoary and old than that of the marriage-minded career girl? Even when that career girl is a belly dancer? And, yes, the film does feint toward being a gritty examination of alcoholism, but all such concerns get sent out with the trash once the home-wrecking floozy gets her slapstick come-uppance and the wayward heroine comes to realize her rightful place as a wife and mother. Ugh.

And I say the above with a real sense of disappointment, as Egyptian cinema, even in the fifties, was not necessarily hostile to feminist--or borderline feminist—statements, such as the films in director Salah Abu-Sief’s “Female Empowerment Trilogy”. Of course, those films came a couple of years after A Glass and a Cigarette, and have been hailed for their progressive attitudes. Maybe Glass, with its emphasis on hand-wringing domestic melodrama, wrapped in a legitimizing veil of social concern, provides an example of the type of movies that Abu-Seif was progressing from. Nevertheless, the film is considered a classic of Egyptian cinema’s Golden Age, thanks to the sure-handed direction of Niazi Mustapha (Antar, The Black Prince), the dazzling star power of its lead cast, the rich, black and white cinematography of Abdel Aziz Fahmy, and several glamorous musical numbers that put the vocally talented actors to good use.



In the film, Samia Gamal and Kouka play Hoda and Samma, two dancers at Cairo’s Al-Gala Casino. Both of them dream of marriage, but with Hoda, that dream has grown into a full-blown obsession. Early in the film, Samma, ever eager to help her friend, culls an assortment of unattached men from among the casino regulars and cajols Hoda to pick one of them to marry. The marriage designs of Samma, a non-resident Tunisian, are more administrative in character. It is at this time that we see Hoda throwing back shot to allay her “shyness.”

But Hoda’s shyness is not enough to keep Mamdouh (Nabil El-Aify) an up-and-coming-and-handsome young doctor, from sweeping her off her feet. As Hoda is primed like some kind of matrimonial rocket, almost no time passes before the two are married and have a baby, who they name Samma, after the woman who tried to pimp out her best friend in an Arabic augury to The Bachelorette. After a period of domestic bliss, trouble arises in the hourglass-shaped form of Mamdouh’s new nurse, Yolanda (Dalida), a dark Italian beauty whom the women mockingly call “Yolanda Macaroni’.” Yolanda sets her sites on Mahmoud and it is not long before Hoda, driven mad with jealousy, is throwing back highball after highball. This is treated as a new development, although we’ve already been shown that Hoda will turn to the sauce over being cut off in traffic.


A word about the women of A Glass and a Cigarette: At the time of making the film, Samia Gamal was widely regarded as one of the best belly dancers in the world. Six years earlier, she had starred as a mischievous genie in the comedy Afrita Hanem, one of the most beloved Egyptian films of its era. Kouka, who was the wife of director Mostafa, was so identified with the legendary figure of  Abla, the storied lover of first century Egyptian poet Antarah ibn Shaddad al-Abs, that one of the film’s musical numbers is dedicated to retelling the tale.

But it was Dalida who might have outshone them all. An Egyptian or Italian heritage, the actress and singer gained worldwide fame as a singer of French language songs. She could even claim the honor of singing the French language version of Brian Highland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weeine Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”


All three woman acquit themselves wonderfully in the acting department. I loved Gamal and Kouka’s antic portrayal of female friendship, which at times reminded me of the girls in  Broad City. Dalida’s Yolanda is a Kohl-eyed personification of feminine malignancy, cold, covetous and calculating. She also steals the movie with a gorgeous torch song that she sings near the end.


Gamal also is really good at portraying someone who is completely stinking drunk while maintaining her glamorous aura. In one penultimate scene, after coming to understand that she has accidentally killed her baby, she staggers wildly down a city street and tumbles into a doorway, where she splays her long body out elegantly before passing out.



Anyone who comes to A Glass and a Cigarette looking for a way to overcome alcoholism will probably be bitterly let down. As the film has it, Hoda begins drinking because her life is imperfect, but at the end, when she has humiliated Yolanda and has reclaimed her happy family, her life is perfect, and no more mention is made of her little problem until the cheerful closing credits music plays.

It all seems so simple.